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Pale Moonwort (Botrychium pallidum)

Life history

Species overview

Pale Moonwort (Botrychium pallidum), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in open, moist sandy-cobbly subtrates with low organic matter content. In Wisconsin, found only in a single locality thus far, adjacent to a pothole lake. The optimal identification period for this species is April through June.

Synonyms: None


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Distinguished from B. minganense by rolled pinnae margins across entire trophophore. Distinguished from B. gallicomontanum by having sporophore stalk more than half as long as trophophore.
  • Flower characteristics: Sporophore (fertile blade) 1.5 to 4 times longer than trophophore (sterile blade).
  • Fruit characteristics: Spore diameter 23 to 28 um.
  • Leaf characteristics: Trophophore folded, pinnately divided with up to 5 pairs of pinnae; pinnae whitish green, basal pinnae cleft into 2 unequal lobes.


  • Blooming phenology:
  • Fruiting phenology: April through June
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is April through June


  • Growth form: Fern
  • Vegetative reproduction:
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Calamagrostis canadensis, Rubus spp., Salix spp., Botrychium simplex var. tenebrosum, Botrychium rugulosom, Botrychium multifidum, B. matricariifolium.

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 Pale Moonwort (Botrychium pallidum). 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 pallidum in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1
Global RankG3
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 open, moist sandy-cobbly subtrates with low organic matter content. In Wisconsin, found only in a single locality thus far, adjacent to a pothole lake.
  • Soils: Sandy, peaty subtrates with low organic matter content.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Pale 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).

Natural communities score
Inland Beach 3

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Pale 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
Northwest Sands 3

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

  • Management guidelines are difficult because the exact habitat requirements of this species are unknown.


Pale Moonwort Photo.

Photo © Matthew Bushman.

Pale Moonwort Photo.

Photo © Matthew Bushman.

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