Photos by Scott Smith
Text by Scott Smith and Al Schneider
Botrychiums, by some considered members of their own family, Botrychiaceae, are by the Flora of North America experts Warren and Florence Wagner, placed in Ophioglossaceae (the Adder's Tongue Family) . Further, plants that the Wagners recognize as Botrychium are by some experts placed in three genera: Botrychium, Botrypus, and Sceptridium.
Botrychiums are small seedless vascular plants that reproduce by spores shed into the air. They have fleshy roots, some species only occasionally emerge above ground, and they gain most of their nourishment from an association with mycorrhizal fungi. The above ground portion of Botrychium consists of a "trophophore" (the photosynthetic branch) and a "sporophore" (the spore-bearing reproductive branch). Only Botrychiums and Ophioglossaceae species have these sterile/photosynthetic versus fertile/reproductive growth characteristics.
The Botrychium genus was named by Olof Swartz in 1800; he replaced the original genus name of Osmunda given by Linnaeus 1753. The name “Botrychium” is derived from the Greek word “botrypus”, meaning “a cluster of grapes” and refers to the cluster of spore-producing sporangia on the sporophore. The plant is commonly known as "Moonwort" and "Grapefern", the latter due to the cluster of grape-looking sporangia.
The Botrychium of Colorado are montane plants of highly disturbed areas: old mining areas, road cuts, clear cuts, and avalanche chutes. Many Botrychium are circumboreal.
Typically Botrychium are very small plants. A giant among their kind would be six-to-nine inches tall. Most never exceed three or four inches. Botrychium are notoriously hard to find, but when they are found great pleasure is had. They are intricate, delicate, and curious.
All species of Botrychium are uncommon to rare in Colorado. One has managed to find itself on the Federal Threatened and Endangered list. Several plants pictured have only in the last few years been found in Colorado. And evidence for new Botrychiums continues to be found: Click for Donald Farrar's "Genetic and Morphological Analysis of Guanella Pass Botrychium Plants" and for the data for Farrar's study.
For a comprehensive discussion of Botrychium in general and for photographs, drawings, and complete descriptions of almost all U.S. Botrychium, see Donald Farrar's web page on the Ada Hayden Herbarium web site.
Finding Botrychium is one of Scott Smith's great summer hobbies; he is turning this hobby into a book on the Botrychium of Colorado
Moonwort (Botrychium) Systematics: https://www.herbarium.iastate.edu/moonwort-botrychium-systematics