Based on: P.J. Brownsey & L.R. Perrie (2014)
Taxon profile for this taxon
Taxon Profile

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Polypodium vulgare L.

Polypodium vulgare: pinnate lamina of mature plant showing soral bulges on upper surface.Image: Te Papa © Te Papa 2011
Polypodium vulgare: pinnate lamina of mature plant showing soral bulges on upper surface. Image: Te Papa © Te Papa 2011



Scientific Name:
Polypodium vulgare L., Sp. Pl., 1085 (1753)
Lectotype (selected by Jonsell & Jarvis 1993): Herb. Burser XX: 44, UPS.
From the Latin vulgare (common), a reference to the plant in its native range.


Rupestral or terrestrial; creeping fern. Rhizomes long-creeping, 4–7 mm diameter, scaly. Rhizome scales non-clathrate, ovate, 2–6 mm long, 0.5–2 mm wide, squarrose, orange-brown, entire or toothed towards the apex. Fronds 100–550 mm long. Stipes 20–250 mm long, not winged except near base of lamina, yellow-brown, glabrous. Laminae 1-pinnate, ovate to narrowly elliptic, 100–300 mm long, 50–120 mm wide, mid-green turning yellow-green with age, herbaceous to coriaceous, glabrous except for widely scattered scales at base. Pinnae in 9–25 pairs, 30–70 mm long, 6–11 mm wide, oblong, apices obtuse, margins minutely serrate, decurrent at base, adnate to rachis. Veins reticulate, usually forming 1 series of areoles between costa and lobe margin; hydathodes absent. Sori round or slightly elongate, 1–3.5 mm long, superficial and not or only slightly bulging on upper surface, in 1 row on either side of the costa, medial or closer to the costa; paraphyses absent; exindusiate.


This species is superficially similar to species of Microsorum. It can be distinguished by the lamina, at least in its lower third, being divided right to the rachis to form distinct pinnae, whereas in Microsorum the lamina is only ever pinnatifid. Also, the pinna margins are minutely serrate, in contrast to the entire margins in Microsorum.


Polypodium vulgare distribution map based on databased records at AK, CHR and WELT.Image: K. Boardman © Landcare Research 2014
Polypodium vulgare distribution map based on databased records at AK, CHR and WELT. Image: K. Boardman © Landcare Research 2014
North Island: Southern North Island.
South Island: Canterbury.

Altitudinal range: 0–700 m.

A European and Asian species first recorded from the Port Hills of Christchurch (Lovis 1980). It was first observed in the 1960s and is now spreading aggressively in that area, being widespread from Godley Head to Gebbies Pass, on Quail Island, and on parts of Banks Peninsula. More recently it has also been collected from several sites in Canterbury between Christchurch and Kaikoura, as far inland as the Amuri Range, and from Hongoeka Bay north of Porirua (Shepherd & Perrie 2006). It occurs from near sea level around Wellington, to over 700m in the North Canterbury hills.


On coastal cliffs, road banks, volcanic rock bluffs, and on greywacke rock under dry scrub or shrub or forest vegetation.



First Record

Lovis (1980, p. 56). Voucher: CHR 323300, 1976.


Lovis (1980) determined that plants from the Port Hills were ”tetraploid” (i.e. n = 74), but no explicit count was given.


In Europe the Polypodium vulgare aggregate consists of three cytologically and morphologically distinct species. Lovis (1980) concluded that the New Zealand plants were not entirely consistent with any of these three taxa, but that their tetraploid nature and micro-morphological characters suggested they were referable to P. vulgare sens. str. They also lack the distinctive gland-tipped paraphyses of the tetraploid American species, P. virginianum.

Polypodium vulgare is a major component of Horny Goat Weed, a Chinese medicine which claims a variety of aphrodisiacal and medical benefits. There is at least one report of deliberate transfer of this species from Christchurch to the Hawke’s Bay region to grow for medicinal purposes.

Active control of this aggressive weed is being attempted in the Christchurch area, and dispersal to other parts of the country is strongly discouraged.


  • Polypodium vulgare: underside of pinnate lamina with round, exindusiate sori.Image: Te Papa © Te Papa 2011
    Polypodium vulgare: underside of pinnate lamina with round, exindusiate sori. Image: Te Papa © Te Papa 2011


Brownsey, P.J. 1988: Pteridophyta. In: Webb, C.J.; Sykes, W.R.; Garnock-Jones, P.J. Flora of New Zealand. Vol. IV. Naturalised Pteridophytes, Gymnosperms, Dicotyledons. Botany Division, D.S.I.R., Christchurch, New Zealand.
Brownsey, P.J.; Perrie, L.R. 2014: Polypodiaceae (excluding Notogrammitis). In: Breitwieser, I; Heenan, P.B.; Wilton, A.D. Flora of New Zealand — Ferns and Lycophytes. Fascicle 1. Lincoln, Manaaki Whenua Press.
Brownsey, P.J.; Smith-Dodsworth, J.C. 2000: New Zealand ferns and allied plants. Edition 2. David Bateman, Auckland.
Jonsell, B.E.; Jarvis, C.E. 1993: In: Jarvis, C.E.; Barrie, F.R.; Allan, D.M.; Reveal, J.L. (ed.) A list of Linnaean generic names and their types. Vol. 127. In: Regnum Vegetabile. International Association for Plant Taxonomy, Königstein. 1–100.
Large, M.F.; Braggins, J.E. 1991: Spore atlas of New Zealand ferns and fern allies. SIR Publishing, Wellington.
Linnaeus, C. 1753: Species Plantarum. Impensis Laurentii Salvii, Stockholm.
Lovis, J.D. 1980: A puzzling Polypodium on the Port Hills. Canterbury Botanical Society Journal 14: 55–57.
Shepherd, L.D.; Perrie, L.R. 2006: Polypodium vulgare: a new weed for Wellington. Wellington Botanical Society Newsletter September 2006: 15.
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We are grateful for several new records and specimens of this species collected in eastern Marlborough and Canterbury by Miles Giller
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