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Spoon-leaf Moonwort (Botrychium spathulatum)

Life history

Species overview

Spoon-leaf Moonwort (Botrychium spathulatum), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in grassy clearings in boreal forest on dolomite along Lake Michigan. The optimal identification period for this species is early June through early July.

Synonyms: None


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Distinguished from B. minganense by its more branched fertile frond and leaves that appear later (late spring through summer); pinnae more narrowly fan-shaped than B. lunaria.
  • Flower characteristics:
  • Fruit characteristics: Spore producing organ (sporophore) emerging from the base of the leaf, 1.5 to 2.5 times the length of the fronds; sporangia (round spore-bearing sacs) borne on spreading twice-pinnate branches.
  • Leaf characteristics: Frond solitary, pinnate, narrowly deltate, dull green, up to 8 x 2.5 cm, containing up to 8 more or less opposite pairs of pinnae lobes; pinnae lobes narrowly fan-shaped with margins mainly entire or occasionally irregularly and shallolwy serrated, held either flat in the same plane or with only the lowest pair somewhat folded or angled toward one another.


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


  • Growth form: Fern
  • Vegetative reproduction: Rhizomatous
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Abies balsamea, Thuja occidentalis.

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 Spoon-leaf Moonwort (Botrychium spathulatum). 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 spathulatum 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 grassy clearings in boreal forest on dolomite along Lake Michigan.
  • Soils: Calcareous soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Spoon-leaf 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
Great Lakes Ridge and Swale 2
Boreal Forest 2

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Spoon-leaf 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
Northern Lake Michigan Coastal 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 locating landings or staging areas in open areas dominated by native grasses.
  • Avoid site preparation that heavily disturbs herbaceous ground layer and soil; these include bulldozing and furrowing, as well as grubbing and stump removal.
  • 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 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

  • Although this species has been found in disturbed sites, aboveground damage may be less important than belowground disturbance. Therefore, avoid frequent disturbances which will affect soil conditions
  • Buffer management around unique microhabitats such as ephemeral ponds, seeps, etc.
  • Follow BMPs, especially around streams and use care near ravines, steep slopes, cliffs, rock outcrops, etc.


Spoon-leaf Moonwort Photo.

Photo © Gary Fewless, Wisconsin State Herbarium

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