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Ferns and Fern Allies of the Red River Gorge (Kentucky)

The Red River Gorge in eastern Kentucky is a canyon system that is part of the Pottsville Escarpment, which forms the eastern border of the Cincinnati Arch, running from Tennessee through Kentucky through southeastern Ohio. At the Red River Gorge, the younger and higher Mississippian strata of the Cumberland Plateau drop to the Devonian and Silurian strata of the Bluegrass. The Mississippian sandstones are hard and well-consolidated, forming long series of high cliffs, often several hundred feet high. Many towers, natural bridges, rockhouses, narrow canyons and waterfalls are to be found in this geologic areas. The Red River Gorge is mostly Federal land within the Daniel Boone National Forest, located in Wolfe, Powell and Menifee Counties, close to Natural Bridge State Park. It has been designated a "geologic" area and has been set aside from logging and other development.

The Gorge has an exceptionally rich range of flora because of its geological extremes which create many local climate zones. Canada yew is found there in close proximity to far more southern species. The fern flora is rich, with many species reaching larger sizes than they customarily do.

Kingdom: Plantae

Division: Lycopodiophyta

Class: Lycopodiopsida

Order: Lycopodiales
Lycopodiaceae: the clubmoss family

Genus: Lycopodium
Lycopodium clavatum: running wolf's-foot
Occasional, on open, sandy banks.
Genus: Dendrolycopodium
Dendrolycopodium obscurum: ground-pine
Occasional, in high, sandy locations.

Genus: Diphasiastrum
Diphasiastrum digitatum: ground-cedar, running-cedar
Frequent, in disturbed areas.

Genus: Huperzia
Huperzia lucidula: shining clubmoss
Occasional, in moist, acid seeps.

Division: Polypodiophyta

Class: Equisetopsida

Order: Equisetales
Family: Equisetaceae: the horsetail and scouring-rush family

Genus: Equisetum

Equisetum hyemale var. affine: scouring-rush
Occasional, in scattered locations in open, sandy areas by Red River.

Class: Ophioglossopsida

Order: Botrychiales
Family: Botrychiaceae: the grape-fern family

Genus: Botrychium

Botrychium matricariifolium: matricary grape fern
Rare, in older disturbed areas.

Genus: Sceptridium

Sceptridium dissectum (aka Botrychium dissectum or B. obliquum): oblique grape fern
Occasional, in disturbed areas.

Genus: Botrypus

Botrypus virginiana: rattlesnake fern
Frequent, in rich woodland borders.

Class: Polypodiopsida

Order: Osmundales
Family: Osmundaceae: the flowering-fern family

Genus: Osmunda

Osmundastrum cinnamomeum: cinnamon fern
Frequent, in swampy, acid areas, often occurring with Osmunda regalis.
Osmunda claytoniana: interrupted fern
Occasional, in moist hillside pockets.
Osmunda regalis: royal fern
Occasional, in swampy, acid areas, often occurring with Osmundastrum cinnamomeum.

Order: Schizaeales
Family: Lygodiaceae: the climbing fern family

Genus: Lygodium

Lygodium palmatum: Hartford fern or climbing fern
Occasional, in exposed locations in moist, highly acid, sandy soil.

Order: Pteridales
Family: Adiantaceae: the maidenhair family

Genus: Adiantum

Adiantum pedatum: maidenhair fern
Common, in moist, well-drained situations, both in soil and on rock.

Family: Pellaeaceae
Genus: Pellaea

Pellaea atropurpurea: purple-stemmed cliff-brake
Rare, known to me only from a few plants in a local limestone exposure on the bank of the Red River upriver from the upper bridge.

Order: Dennstaedtiales
Family: Dennstaedtiaceae: the dennstaedtioid fern family

Genus: Dennstaedtia

Dennstaedtia punctilobula: hayscented fern
Common, on open, moist hillsides and low areas.

Order: Hypolepidales
Family: Hypolepidaceae

Genus: Pteridium

Pteridium latiusculum (aka P. acquilinum var. latiusculum): bracken
Frequent, in open, upland areas.

Order: Aspleniales
Family: Aspleniaceae: the spleenwort family

Genus: Asplenium

Asplenium bradleyii: Bradley's spleenwort
Rare, in acid pockets, usually high up, on weathered sandstone cliffs.
Asplenium montanum: mountain spleenwort
Frequent, in acid pockets on weathered sandstone cliffs.
Asplenium pinnatifidum: pinnatifid spleenwort
Common, in pockets on weathered sandstone rock.
Asplenium platyneuron: ebony spleenwort
Common, usually in meadow areas and disturbed areas.
Asplenium rhizophyllum (aka Camptosorus rhizophyllus): walking fern
Rare, in shaded locations on densely mossy rock.
Family: Woodsiaceae
Genus: Athyrium

Athyrium asplenioides: southern lady fern
Frequent, in very wet soils.

Genus: Deparia

Deparia thelypterioides (aka Athyrium thelypterioides): silvery glade fern
Common, on low slopes and banks.

Family: Onocleaceae: the bead ferns
Genus: Onoclea

Onoclea sensibilis: sensitive fern
Common, in low, open areas.

Blechnaceae: the chain-fern family
Genus: Woodwardia

Woodwardia areolata: net-vein chain fern
Rare, known primarily from one seep near the Nada Tunnel.

Thelypteridaceae: the female fern family
Genus: Thelypteris

Thelypteris noveboracensis: New-York fern
Common, in most good woodland soils.

Genus: Phegopteris

Phegopteris hexagonoptera: broad beech fern
Common, in most good woodland soils.

Order: Polypodiales
Family: Dryopteridaceae: the dryopteroid fern family

Genus: Dryopteris

Dryopteris goldiana: Goldie's wood fern
Occasional, in rich soil on wooded hillsides.
Dryopteris intermedia: intermediate wood fern
Common, in sandy, acid, rocky areas.
Dryopteris marginalis: marginal or evergreen wood fern
Common, in sandy, acid, rocky areas.
Polystichum acrostichoides: Christmas fern
Common, in a wide variety of situations.
Family: Polypodiaceae: the polypody family
Genus: Polypodium

Polypodium appalachianum: the Appalachian rock-cap fern
Polypodium virginianum: the Virginia rock-cap fern
NOTE: I have not had an opportunity to examine these populations in order to ascertain which species is/are present, but I'm assuming that they're both present. In any case, in aggregate, they are common, on the tops of sandstone rock in shaded locations.

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This page was last revised on May 14, 2008.