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Mountain Bladder Fern

Cystopteris montana

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Plant Profile

Cystopteridaceae (Bladder Fern)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
50 centimetres tall
Cliffs, mountains, rocky places, woodland.
Ferns do not have any flowers. Instead the have spores so they can reproduce.
The spores ripen in August and September.
A deciduous fern in leaf from May to September. The fronds (leaves) are 3-pinnate and arise singly from the creeping roots. This fern is similar in appearance to Brittle Bladder Fern (Cystopteris fragilis) but this fern has triangular-shaped fronds.
Other Names:
Woolly Bladder Fern.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Cystopteris montana, also known as the mountain bladder fern, is a fern species that is native to North America, Europe and Asia. It is a hardy, perennial fern that typically grows to be about 2 feet (60 cm) tall and wide. The fronds are delicate, finely divided, and typically have a triangular shape. The young fronds are typically covered in a dense, white tomentum (fuzz) which gives them a silver-white appearance, this is why it also is known as the woolly bladder fern.

It typically grows in damp, shady places such as mountainous woods, rocky ledges and cliffs. They can tolerate dry conditions and can grow in rocky or gravelly soils, it can also grow in full sun or partial shade.

This species is not commonly used as an ornamental plant, but it can be appreciated by botanists and fern enthusiasts. It's a great choice for rock gardens, natural rock outcrops, or walls, as well as for growing in containers for alpine gardens.

Cystopteris montana is not too demanding when it comes to soil, but it does require consistent moisture, so it is important to make sure that the soil is kept consistently damp. It also prefers filtered or dappled sunlight rather than full sun, so it should be planted in a shaded area or under a partial canopy of trees. It can be propagated by spores or by division of the rhizomes.


Mountain bladder fern, also known as Cystopteris montana, is a species of fern that is native to North America and Europe. It is a perennial plant that grows in moist, shaded areas, such as rocky crevices, cliffs, and ledges. This fern is easily recognizable by its delicate fronds, which have a distinctive triangular shape and are covered with small, bladder-like structures called sori.

One of the most interesting features of the mountain bladder fern is its reproductive system. Unlike most ferns, which reproduce through spores, the mountain bladder fern is capable of producing viable seeds. This makes it a unique member of the fern family and has led to much interest and research into its reproductive biology.

Mountain bladder ferns can be found in a variety of habitats, from the lowland forests of the eastern United States to the high alpine regions of western North America. They are particularly common in the rocky outcroppings of the Appalachian Mountains, where they grow in the crevices and on the faces of cliffs. They can also be found in the mountainous regions of Europe, including the Alps, the Pyrenees, and the Carpathians.

In terms of appearance, the mountain bladder fern is a relatively small plant, with fronds that typically grow to a length of about 30 cm. The fronds are delicate and translucent, with a light green color that darkens as they mature. The sori, which contain the fern's reproductive spores, are arranged in rows along the underside of the fronds and are protected by small, bladder-like structures.

Mountain bladder ferns are an important part of many ecosystems, providing food and habitat for a variety of insects, birds, and small mammals. They are also used in traditional medicine, where they are believed to have a variety of healing properties, including as a treatment for urinary tract infections and as a remedy for digestive issues.

However, like many plant species, mountain bladder ferns face threats from habitat loss and degradation, as well as from invasive species and climate change. As a result, conservation efforts are underway to protect this unique and important plant.

Mountain bladder ferns are also highly adaptable to different growing conditions, which allows them to thrive in a variety of habitats. They are able to grow in both sunny and shady areas, and are often found in moist, rocky soils with good drainage.

One of the main reasons for the mountain bladder fern's success is its ability to form symbiotic relationships with mycorrhizal fungi. These fungi live in the soil and form mutualistic associations with the roots of the fern, providing it with nutrients and water in exchange for carbohydrates produced through photosynthesis.

Interestingly, the mountain bladder fern has also been studied for its potential use in bioremediation. Researchers have found that it is capable of absorbing heavy metals and other pollutants from the soil, making it a potential tool for cleaning up contaminated sites.

Despite their small size, mountain bladder ferns have played an important role in human history. Native American tribes used the fern in traditional medicine, and it was also used by early settlers in North America for a variety of purposes, including as a food source and as a remedy for skin conditions.

Today, the mountain bladder fern is a popular ornamental plant for use in rock gardens, shaded borders, and other landscape designs. Its delicate fronds and interesting reproductive structures make it a unique addition to any garden, and its adaptability to different growing conditions make it a versatile plant for both amateur and professional gardeners.

Mountain bladder ferns also have a significant role in folklore and mythology. In many cultures, ferns were believed to possess magical powers and were associated with good luck, protection, and prosperity. In European folklore, it was believed that carrying a fern seed in one's pocket would grant the bearer the power of invisibility. In North America, the Cherokee tribe believed that ferns had healing powers and used them in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments.

In addition to its cultural significance, the mountain bladder fern has also been the subject of scientific research. Scientists have studied its genetics, physiology, and reproductive biology in order to better understand how it has evolved to adapt to different environments. Researchers have also looked at the fern's ability to survive in harsh conditions and have used it as a model organism for understanding how plants adapt to climate change.

Mountain bladder ferns are an important food source for a variety of insects and other small animals. The sori on the underside of the fronds contain spores that are released into the air and can be carried by the wind to new locations. When the spores germinate, they produce a small, heart-shaped structure called a prothallus, which eventually gives rise to the mature fern.

In addition to being a food source and habitat for animals, mountain bladder ferns have also been used by humans for a variety of purposes. In some cultures, the fronds have been used as a natural dye to color fabrics and other materials. The fern has also been used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including indigestion, fever, and urinary tract infections.

As with many plant species, the mountain bladder fern faces threats from habitat loss and degradation, as well as from invasive species and climate change. Invasive plant species can outcompete the fern for resources and alter the ecological balance of the ecosystems where it grows. Climate change can also alter the fern's habitat and growing conditions, making it more difficult for the plant to survive.

To help protect the mountain bladder fern and other threatened plant species, conservation efforts are underway around the world. These efforts include habitat restoration, removal of invasive species, and monitoring of populations to track changes in distribution and abundance over time. By working to protect these valuable plant species, we can help to ensure that they continue to thrive for future generations to enjoy and learn from.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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