Ophioglossum azoricum

Tracheophyta PteropsidaOphioglossaceaeOphioglossumOphioglossum azoricum


A small rhizomatous, deciduous fern of gently sloping grassland, cliff-tops, damp dune-slacks and sandy maritime heaths on both acidic and alkaline soils. Most sites are frost-free situations near to and facing the sea, with exceptions in the New Forest (S. Hants.) where it grows in highly-grazed damp grassland. Lowland.



World Distribution

Suboceanic Boreo-temperate element.

Distribution information

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Ophioglossum azoricum C. Press

Small adder’s-tongue

Status: scarce


This is a plant of well-drained maritime turf, being widespread on cliff tops and in damp sandy hollows in coastal dunes. In the New Forest, it grows in open damp hollows in Calluna-Erica heathland.

O. azoricum dies down in mid-summer and aestivates as dormant root-buds which become leafy the following spring. Its gametophytes are mycorrhizal and subterranean and little is known about their establishment. Ecological constraints on this stage of the life cycle could be a major factor in confining this species to a few sites.

The distinction between this species and the more widespread O. vulgatum is not always clear, and because of this O. azoricum may be under recorded. There seems to be little loss of sites, and it is almost certainly still present in those 10 km squares in the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland for which only pre-1970 records are available.

This species is confined to Europe and Macaronesia, there being scattered populations from Iceland (where it grows around hot springs) to Portugal (including the Azores and Madeira) in the west, eastwards in the Mediterranean to Corsica and Sardinia (Jalas & Suominen 1972). Central European records in Czechoslovakia and Poland require confirmation. 

For a more detailed account of this species, see Paul (1987).


A. C. Jermy

PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Atlas text references

Atlas Supp (4a)
Jalas & Suominen (1972)
Bangerter EB, Cannon JFM, Jermy AC
1978.  Ferns and their allies. The Island of Mull: a survey of its flora and environment. :12.1-12.7.
Page CN
1997.  The ferns of Britain and Ireland, edn 2.
Paul AM
1987.  The status of Ophioglossum azoricum (Ophioglossaceae: Pteridophyta) in the British Isles. Fern Gazette. 13:173-187.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.