Scientific Name:
Pyrrosia elaeagnifolia (Bory) Hovenkamp, Blumea 30: 208 (1984)
  • Polypodium eleagnifolium Bory in Duperrey, Voy. Monde, Crypt. 259, t. 31, f. 1 (1829)
Holotype: Baie des Isles [Bay of Islands], New Zealand, Lesson, L (Hovenkamp 1986)
  • = Polypodium rupestre var. sinuatum Colenso, Trans. & Proc. New Zealand Inst. 17: 257 (1885)
Lectotype (selected by Brownsey & Perrie 2012): Dannevirke, W. Colenso, AK 850!
From elaeagnus (olive), and folium (leaf), a reference to the nature of the frond.
Vernacular Name(s):
leather-leaf fern; ota

Epiphytic and terrestrial; creeping and climbing ferns.  Rhizomes long-creeping, 0.75–2 mm diameter, scaly.  Rhizome scales non-clathrate, narrowly ovate, 2–7 mm long, 0.5–1 mm wide, squarrose, orange-brown when young, entire or sometimes denticulate.  Stipes winged for most of their length and indistinct from the attenuate lamina base.  Fronds undivided, very varied in shape; the sterile almost orbicular to elliptic, obovate or spathulate, 20–180 mm long (including stipe), 11–31 mm wide; the fertile narrowly obovate to spathulate or sometimes narrowly elliptic to linear, 30–260 mm long (including stipe), 4–20 mm wide; apex obtuse to rounded; margins entire; base attenuate to an indistinct stipe; dark green; coriaceous to succulent; scattered stellate hairs on adaxial surface, densely covered in fawn or rarely silver coloured stellate hairs on abaxial surface.  Veins obscure; hydathodes absent.  Sori round or slightly elongate, 2–4 mm long, superficial or partly impressed into the lamina but not or rarely bulging on adaxial surface, irregularly arranged in 2–5 rows (rarely 1) either side of midrib, rarely almost confluent with age, occasionally confined to distal part of lamina; paraphyses present as stellate hairs; exindusiate.


This species is easily recognised by its thick, fleshy, undivided fronds, dense covering of usually fawn-coloured stellate hairs, and exindusiate sori normally arranged in several rows either side of the midrib.  

Very occasional aberrant fronds are found with lobed or bifid fronds, and sometimes the rhizome apices are fastigiately divided into multiple growing tips.  The latter has been attributed to a gall-forming mite, Aceria sp. (Hovenkamp 1986, p. 178).


North Island: Northland, Auckland, Volcanic Plateau, Gisborne, Taranaki, Southern North Island.

South Island: Western Nelson, Sounds-Nelson, Marlborough, Westland, Canterbury, Otago, Southland, Fiordland.

Kermadec Islands, Three Kings Islands, Chatham Islands, Stewart Island.

Hovenkamp (1986) cites one specimen from Norfolk Island (A. Cunningham 33, U), but Green (1994a) asserts that only one species, P. confluens, is present on the island.

Altitudinal range: 0–900 m.

Common in lowland to montane areas throughout, from sea level to about 900 m.  Uncommon in inland parts of the South Island, especially Otago.


This is a very tough and adaptable fern which can survive dry conditions due to its fleshy frond, dense covering of hairs and reduced lamina area.  It occurs on rocks, logs, scoria and banks, and as an epiphyte on branches and trunks of native, naturalised and cultivated trees.  It is found from exposed coastal situations to sheltered forest, in a wide range of scrub, beech, podocarp and broadleaved forest types.

Indigenous (Endemic)

n = 37 (Brownlie 1961, as Pyrrosia serpens).


New Zealand plants were previously referred to P. serpens (G.Forst.) Ching, but that species has larger sori in just 1–2 rows either side of the costa.  The confusion arose because Forster identified New Zealand as the type locality for P. serpens, but his specimen is not conspecific with the local species.  It was probably collected on one of the Pacific islands, and the specimen mis-labelled (Hovenkamp 1986).  P. serpens occurs across the Pacific from New Caledonia to Pitcairn Island.

Pyrrosia eleagnifolia has been widely misidentified in earlier New Zealand literature under the names Polypodium stellatum Vahl, Polypodium serpens G.Forst., Niphobolus bicolor Kaulf., and Polypodium rupestre R.Br. (and combinations based on them).   

Hovenkamp (1986) noted that specimens from the Kermadec Islands have rhizome scales that are more strongly dentate than those from elsewhere.  Sometimes, they also have larger sterile fronds with silver coloured hairs (e.g. AK 234205).  Whether these differences warrant taxonomic recognition needs further investigation.

Brownlie, G. 1961: Additional chromosome numbers – New Zealand ferns. Transactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand. Botany 1: 1–4.
Brownsey, P.J.; Perrie, L.R. 2012: Taxonomic notes on the New Zealand flora: lectotypes and excluded taxa in the fern family Polypodiaceae. New Zealand Journal of Botany 50: 179–184.
Brownsey, P.J.; Perrie, L.R. 2015: Polypodiaceae (excluding Notogrammitis). In: Breitwieser, I; Heenan, P.B.; Wilton, A.D. (ed.) Flora of New Zealand — Ferns and Lycophytes. Fascicle 1. Manaaki Whenua Press, Lincoln.
Brownsey, P.J.; Smith-Dodsworth, J.C. 2000: New Zealand ferns and allied plants. Edition 2. David Bateman, Auckland.
Colenso, W. 1885 ("1884"): A description of some newly-discovered and rare indigenous plants; being a further contribution towards the making known the botany of New Zealand. Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute 17: 237–265.
de Lange, P.J.; Rolfe, J.R.; Barkla J.W.; Courtney, S.P.; Champion, P.D.; Perrie, L.R.; Beadel, S.N.; Ford, K.A.; Breitwieser, I.; Schönberger, I.; Hindmarsh-Walls, R.; Heenan, P.B.; Ladley, K. 2018: Conservation status of New Zealand indigenous vascular plants, 2017. New Zealand Threat Classification Series No. 22. [Not Threatened]
de Lange, P.J.; Rolfe, J.R.; Champion, P.D.; Courtney, S.P.; Heenan, P.B.; Barkla, J.W.; Cameron, E.K.; Norton, D.A.; Hitchmough, R.A. 2013: Conservation status of New Zealand indigenous vascular plants, 2012. New Zealand Threat Classification Series 3. Department of Conservation, Wellington. [Not Threatened]
Duperrey, L.I. 1829: Voyage autour de monde, Cryptogamie. Betrand, Paris.
Green, P.S. 1994a: Oceanic Islands, 1. Flora of Australia. Vol. 49. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra. ABRS/CSIRO, Canberra and Melbourne.
Green, P.S. 1994b: Polypodiaceae. In: Wilson, A.J.G. (ed.) Flora of Australia. Vol. 49. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra. 571–576.
Hovenkamp, P.H. 1984: Some new names and combinations in Pyrrosia Mirbel (Polypodiaceae). Blumea 30(1): 207–208.
Hovenkamp, P.H. 1986: A monograph of the fern genus Pyrrosia (Polypodiaceae). Leiden Botanical Series 9: 1–310.
Large, M.F.; Braggins, J.E. 1991: Spore atlas of New Zealand ferns and fern allies. SIR Publishing, Wellington.