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Pillularia globulifera

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Plant Profile

Marsileaceae (Pepperwort)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
15 centimetres tall
Gardens, marshes, mud, rocky places, walls, water, waterside, wetland.
Ferns are flowerless.
This fern has pill-like swellings in which the spores are held, hence the name 'Pillwort'.
The leaves of this fern are unlike those of typical ferns. They are erect and thread-like. The yellowish-green which unfurl from tight coils.
Other Names:
Globe-headed Pearlwort, Pearlwort, Pepper Grass.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Pillularia globulifera, commonly known as pearlwort or globe-headed pearlwort, is a species of small, perennial herb in the Aquifoliaceae family. It is native to Europe and Asia, and can be found in habitats such as rocky soils, walls, and crevices. The plant has small, green leaves and small, greenish-white flowers that grow in clusters. It typically grows as a low-lying groundcover and is often used as an ornamental plant in rock gardens and alpine gardens. It's also found in traditional medicine to treat various ailments, but there is limited scientific evidence to support these uses.


Pillwort, also known as Pillularia globulifera, is a small aquatic fern that is commonly found in ponds, lakes, and slow-moving streams. It is a unique and fascinating plant that has been known to mankind for centuries, and its popularity among botanists and nature lovers has only grown over the years.

Pillwort gets its name from the small, round, and pill-like structures that form on the fronds of the plant. These structures, known as sporocarps, contain spores that are used for reproduction. The plant is also known for its slender, bright green fronds that are divided into small leaflets, giving it a delicate and intricate appearance.

The fern is native to Europe, Asia, and North America and can be found in both freshwater and brackish water environments. It prefers calm and shallow waters and can grow in a variety of substrates such as mud, sand, and gravel. Pillwort is an excellent indicator of good water quality and is often used as a bioindicator to assess the ecological health of wetlands.

Despite its small size, pillwort plays an important role in its ecosystem. It provides a habitat for a variety of aquatic animals and insects, including snails, beetles, and dragonflies. Additionally, the plant is a food source for a variety of grazing animals, such as geese and swans.

The fern has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. It is believed to have astringent and diuretic properties and has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including urinary tract infections and kidney stones. However, there is limited scientific evidence to support these claims, and the plant should not be consumed without consulting a healthcare professional.

Despite its many benefits, pillwort is under threat due to habitat loss, pollution, and the spread of invasive species. Conservation efforts are underway to protect and restore pillwort populations, and individuals can also play a role by learning about the plant and supporting conservation efforts in their local communities.

Pillwort has a long history of use in folklore and traditional medicine. In some cultures, the sporocarps were believed to have magical properties and were used as a love charm or for protection against evil spirits. The plant was also used to treat various ailments, such as wounds, coughs, and digestive issues.

In modern times, pillwort has also been studied for its potential use in phytoremediation, the process of using plants to remove pollutants from soil and water. Its ability to accumulate heavy metals and other contaminants in its tissues makes it a promising candidate for this application.

Pillwort is also of interest to researchers studying plant evolution and systematics. Its unique morphology and life cycle have led to ongoing debates about its taxonomic classification and evolutionary relationships with other ferns.

To observe pillwort in the wild, one can look for it in shallow waters such as ponds and streams. It can be easily identified by its round sporocarps, which are usually visible during the summer months. However, because of its small size and inconspicuous nature, pillwort can be difficult to spot, and it is best to seek the guidance of a trained botanist or naturalist.

Another interesting fact about pillwort is that it is a relic of a group of ferns that were much more common in prehistoric times. It belongs to the family Ophioglossaceae, which includes other ancient ferns such as adder's tongue and moonwort. These ferns have a unique reproductive strategy that involves separate vegetative and reproductive fronds, a trait that is thought to have evolved early in fern evolution.

In addition to its ecological and scientific importance, pillwort also has cultural significance. It has been used in traditional crafts, such as basket weaving and dyeing, and is still valued by some artisans today. Its delicate fronds and unique sporocarps also make it a popular plant for nature photography and botanical art.

Unfortunately, pillwort populations are declining due to habitat loss and degradation. Wetland destruction and pollution are major threats to the plant, as well as the spread of invasive species such as the New Zealand pygmyweed. Conservation efforts are underway to protect and restore pillwort populations, including habitat restoration, control of invasive species, and public education.

As individuals, we can also help to protect pillwort and other wetland plants by supporting conservation efforts and advocating for the protection of wetland habitats. By learning about the ecological and cultural importance of these plants, we can help to ensure their survival for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.

One interesting aspect of pillwort is its ability to survive drought and low water conditions. During periods of dryness, the plant can go dormant, with its fronds dying back and the sporocarps dropping to the bottom of the water. When water returns, the plant can quickly rehydrate and resume growth.

Another unique feature of pillwort is its potential as a source of natural compounds with pharmaceutical properties. Studies have shown that the plant contains a variety of bioactive compounds, including flavonoids, phenolic acids, and alkaloids, which have been shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties.

Pillwort also has cultural significance in some indigenous communities. In North America, for example, the plant was used by the Ojibwe people as a medicinal herb and was also considered a sacred plant that symbolized fertility and renewal.

To help protect pillwort and other wetland plants, individuals can take actions such as reducing water pollution, conserving water resources, and supporting wetland restoration efforts. This can involve simple steps such as properly disposing of household chemicals, reducing fertilizer use, and conserving water by fixing leaks and using low-flow fixtures. Additionally, individuals can support conservation organizations and advocate for policies that protect wetlands and other important habitats.

In conclusion, pillwort is a unique and important plant with ecological, scientific, and cultural significance. Its ability to survive in harsh environments, potential medicinal properties, and use in traditional crafts and folklore make it a fascinating plant worth learning about and protecting. By taking steps to conserve wetlands and reduce pollution, we can help to ensure the survival of pillwort and other important wetland plants for future generations.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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