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Common Moonwort (Botrychium lunaria)

Life history

Species overview

Common Moonwort (Botrychium lunaria), a Wisconsin Endangered plant, is found typically in the open areas of moist, cool woods such as small grassy gaps, edges of woods or open fields. The optimal identification period for this species is early July through late September.

Synonyms: Botrychium lunaria var. onondagense, Botrychium onondagense, Osmunda lunaria


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Fronds lanceolate in overall shape, (not broadly triangular) with 3 to 6 pairs of more or less opposite pinnae lobes, each of which is broader than long and fan-shaped.
  • Flower characteristics:
  • Fruit characteristics: Spore producing organ (sporophore) grows up to 14 cm long, sparsely branched bearing small round sporangia (round spore-bearing sacs) and emerges from the base of the leaf,
  • Leaf characteristics: Bright green, erect, 1.5 to 7 cm x 0.7 to 3 cm, distinctly pinnately divided, smooth , consisting of 3 to 6 more or less opposite pairs of pinnae lobes, each of which is broader than it is long; pinnae lobes ares fan-shaped with no midrib, resembling leaves of the ginko tree.


  • Blooming phenology:
  • Fruiting phenology: July
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is early July through late September


  • Growth form: Fern
  • Vegetative reproduction: Rhizomatous
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Abies balsamea, Picea glauca, Betula papyrifera, Acer saccharum, A. spicatum, Botrychium minganense, Botrychium simplex.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Common Moonwort (Botrychium lunaria). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Botrychium lunaria in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusEND
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1S2
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found typically in the open areas of moist, cool woods such as small grassy gaps, edges of woods or open fields.
  • Soils: Sandy or gravelly soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Common Moonwort. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Common Moonwort. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid locating landings, staging areas, or access routes in open sandy areas dominated by native grasses.
  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.
  • Avoid direct disturbance to sensitive microsites such as seeps, cliffs, and moss-covered boulders.
  • Avoid site preparation that heavily disturbs herbaceous ground layer and soil; these include bulldozing and furrowing, as well as grubbing and stump removal.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Buffer management around unique microhabitats such as ephemeral ponds, seeps, etc.
  • Maintain thick duff layer if possible; minimize spread of invasive species including earthworms.
  • Maintain high forest canopy cover; this species requires shaded habitat conditions.
  • Follow BMPs, especially around streams and use care near ravines, steep slopes, cliffs, rock outcrops, etc.


Common Moonwort Photo.

Botrychium lunaria (Common Moonwort)

Photo © W.C. Taylor.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition