Friday, July 30, 2010

The Exceptional Botrychiums of Buckskin Gulch

Poking out of the gravel of an abandoned placer mining operation at Buckskin Gulch, Colorado is a curious little fern that belongs to the genus Botrychium. This particular Botrychium is extremely rare.

Botrychiums (commonly known as Moonwort or Grapefern) are seedless and reproduce by airborne spores. The name “Botrychium” is from the Greek word “botrypus,” meaning “a cluster of grapes” and refers to the plant’s grape-like shape of their spore clusters. Botrychiums are an ancient group that appeared on the landscape before the dinosaurs.
Some species only occasionally appear above ground, and obtain most of their nourishment from a connection with mycorrhizal fungi.  In Colorado these peculiar looking plants occasionally appear in montane or high elevation areas that have been disturbed by an avalanche, clear cutting, or mining.

B. bifurcatum are tiny ferns have gone unnoticed. 
Much remains to be understood about their
characteristics, systematics, and distribution.
A new B. bifurcatum
Photo by W. Johnston
The Botrychium growing in Buckskin Gulch is thought to be a new species of moonwort that was recently discovered in the Arapaho National Forest. The new species name is bifurcatum. Botanists have not yet published a paper introducing it to the scientific world. Until now there were only three known sites for B.bifurcatum: a site at Guanella Pass in the Arapaho National Forest had 17 plants; a site at the San Isabel National Forest had 12 plants; and one plant was discovered west of Boulder.

Now Buckskin Creek can be added to the short list of B.bifurcatum plants that exist in Colorado. And, so far, this is all of them in the entire world—making them exceptionally rare.

The gold placer mine on Buckskin Creek is scheduled to be reclaimed and returned to its natural state. Prior to reclamation work, a survey of the ground discovered a few B. bifurcatum plants growing in the shade of a large cinquefoil bush. Each fern was carefully flagged so that proposed reclamation service roads could be rerouted around these rare plants.

All species of Botrychium are uncommon in Colorado and are generally very small plants—most never exceed three or four inches, which make them hard to find, but when found these curious plants are fun to look at and provide a good measure of enjoyment.


Colorado Rare Plant Technical Committee. Second Annual Rare Plant Symposium. Pagosa Springs. September 16,2005.

The 3rd Annual Colorado Rare Plant Society Meeting Minutes, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, September 8, 2006.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steven, Thanks for linking to our Rare Plant Symposium reports! Just to be persnickity, we've changed the link on the 3rd Annual Meeting Minutes to (spaces replaced with underlines)

    For anyone interested in more current Rare Plant Symposium updates, see