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Notholaena sulphurea (Cav.) J. Sm. 1854

Southern Desert Star Cloakfern

Carl Rothfels
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Containing group: core Notholaena


Notholaena sulphurea is by far the most geographically widespread notholaenid species, ranging across much of Mexico, through Central America, south to Colombia, Peru, and Chile. Within that range, however, populations tend to be scarce and widely separated. It is quite possibly a complex of different evolutionary entities; the one known chromosome count, from Tamaulipas, showed that population to comprise sexual diploids (Windham and Yatskievych, 2003), but chromosome numbers elsewhere are unknown, and no phylogenetic study has evaluated the validity of the species as a whole. While quite conservative in most morphological characteristics across its range, this species does show a great variation in farina color and composition (Wollenweber, 1984; Wollenweber et al., 2001). Within Mexico alone, N. sulphurea occurs as white, pale yellow, and deep yellow farina color morphs (Mickel and Smith, 2004), and these morphs largely correspond to particular geographic ranges.


Notholaena sulphurea very closely resembles N. standleyi, and thus it was a great surprise when plastid DNA data showed that these two taxa are not closely related (Rothfels et al., 2008). From N. standleyi, N. sulphurea differs in its leaf division: the terminal lobe of N. sulphurea leaves is on its own distinct stalk, whereas all lobes in N. standleyi are connected by a thin strip of green tissue (albeit sometimes a very thin strip).

Other Names for Notholaena sulphurea (Cav.) J. Sm. 1854


Giauque, M. F. A. 1949. Wax glands and prothallia. American Fern Journal 39:33-35.

Mickel, J. T., and A. R. Smith. 2004. The Pteridophytes of Mexico. The New York Botanical Garden Press, New York.

NatureServe. 2008. NatureServe Explorer, Arlington, Virginia. www.natureserve.org/explorer/

Rothfels, C. J., M. D. Windham, A. L. Grusz, G. J. Gastony, and K. M. Pryer. 2008. Toward a monophyletic Notholaena (Pteridaceae): Resolving patterns of evolutionary convergence in xeric-adapted ferns Taxon 57:712-724.

Tryon, R. M. 1956. A revision of the American species of Notholaena. Contributions from the Gray Herbarium 179:1-106.

Windham, M. D. 1993a. Notholaena. Pages 143--149 in Flora of North America (Flora of North American Editorial Committee, ed.) Oxford University Press, New York.

Windham, M. D., and G. Yatskievych. 2003. Chromosome studies of cheilanthoid ferns (Pteridaceae: Cheilanthoideae) from the western United States and Mexico. American Journal of Botany 90:1788-1800.

Wollenweber, E. 1984. Exudate flavonoids of Mexican ferns as chemotaxonomic markers. Rev. Latinoamer. Quim. 15:3-11.

Wollenweber, E., M. Dörr, and J. F. Stevens. 2001. A dihydroflavonol with taxonomic significance from the fern Notholaena sulphurea. Zeitschrift für Naturforschung 56:499-502.

Title Illustrations
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Scientific Name Notholaena sulphurea
Location Mexico, Tamaulipas. ~10km NE of Mier y Noriega
Acknowledgements Specimen scanned and reproduced with permission from the University of Utah Herbarium.
Specimen Condition Dead Specimen
Collection Herbarium specimen
Collector Windham et al. 488
Image Use creative commons This media file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License - Version 3.0.
Copyright © 2008 University of Utah Herbarium
About This Page

Carl Rothfels
Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA

Correspondence regarding this page should be directed to Carl Rothfels at

Page: Tree of Life Notholaena sulphurea (Cav.) J. Sm. 1854. Southern Desert Star Cloakfern. Authored by Carl Rothfels. The TEXT of this page is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License - Version 3.0. Note that images and other media featured on this page are each governed by their own license, and they may or may not be available for reuse. Click on an image or a media link to access the media data window, which provides the relevant licensing information. For the general terms and conditions of ToL material reuse and redistribution, please see the Tree of Life Copyright Policies.

Citing this page:

Rothfels, Carl. 2008. Notholaena sulphurea (Cav.) J. Sm. 1854. Southern Desert Star Cloakfern. Version 23 December 2008 (under construction). http://tolweb.org/Notholaena_sulphurea/133614/2008.12.23 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/

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