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Little Goblin Moonwort (Botrychium mormo)

Life history

Species overview

Little Goblin Moonwort (Botrychium mormo), a Wisconsin Endangered plant, is found in mature second-growth to old-growth hardwood forests, preferring silt-capped drumlins, usually where hemlock is at least a minor forest component. The optimal identification period for this species is mid July through mid August.

Synonyms: None


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Usually small in stature, with fronds shiny, yellow-green, succulent, with 3 lobes or less that are entire to shallowly crenate; fertile portion of frond an erect spike that is slightly to many times longer than the sterile portion, bearing up to two rows of sporangia.
  • Flower characteristics:
  • Fruit characteristics: Basal, fertile portion of frond an erect spike slightly to many times longer than the sterile portion, pinnately branched at its apex, each branch and brachlet bearing 2 rows of sporangia not or only slightly embedded in the branch.
  • Leaf characteristics: Frond solitary, lobed yellow-green to green, shiny, linear to linear-spatulate, 5 x 1 cm, very succulent; occasionally with 3 ascending lobes that are widely separated at the base, but are fused together towards the tip.


  • Blooming phenology:
  • Fruiting phenology:
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is mid July through mid August


  • Growth form: Fern
  • Vegetative reproduction: Rhizomatous
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Acer saccharum, Tilia americana, Betula alleghaniensis.

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 Little Goblin Moonwort (Botrychium mormo). 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 mormo in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusEND
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1S2
Global RankG2Q
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 in mature second-growth to old-growth hardwood forests, preferring silt-capped drumlins, usually where hemlock is at least a minor forest component.
  • Soils: Loamy soils, sometimes with a high propotion of silt.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Little Goblin 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 Little Goblin Moonwort. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Ecological landscape score
Forest Transition 1
North Central Forest 3
Northeast Sands 1

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 broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • 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 site preparation that heavily disturbs herbaceous ground layer and soil; these include bulldozing and furrowing, as well as grubbing and stump removal.

Management guidance

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

  • This species has been found in second-growth forests, which makes understanding its tolerance of disturbance difficult. However, due to the long disturbance-free periods usually seen in mesic forests, it is likely that dramatic reductions in canopy cover will result in overly dry ground conditions and an influx of new plant species that will outcompete B. oneidense in the modified habitat. Management which minimizes changes to soil moisture and overall groundcover should be pursued.
  • Maintain thick duff layer if possible; minimize spread of invasive species including earthworms.
  • Maintain high forest canopy cover; this species requires shaded habitat conditions.


Little Goblin Moonwort Photo.

Photo © Stephen L. Solheim.

Little Goblin Moonwort Photo.

Little goblin moonwort is a globally rare fern that occurs primarily in rich mesic hardwood forests of the western Great Lakes region.

Photo © W.C. Taylor.

Little Goblin Moonwort Photo.

Photo © Stephen L. Solheim.

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