Ferns are green vascular plants without seeds or flowers. They reproduce by microscopic spores contained in spore cases (sporangia). These are usually borne in clusters (sori) on the back of the leaf, sometimes near or on the margin. The leaves of ferns are known as fronds. Most of them begin as tightly coiled stalks emerging from the rootstocks, gradually uncoiling as they grow and expand. Each frond is divided one or more times, the divisions called segments. Ferns reach their best development in moist, tropical climates, but even the desert mountains support a number of species. These are relatively small, some of them able to survive lengthy dry periods.
Cheilanthes feeiT. Moore. Slender Lip Fern. Fronds densely tufted, 2–8 in (5–20 cm) long; blades narrowly ovate or oblong, thinly hairy above, somewhat woolly and pale brown beneath; the segments gray-green, oval to rounded, the margins narrowly rolled under.
Distribution. Limestone crevices; Desert Scrub and Pinyon-juniper Woodland, 4,000–9,500 ft (1,220–2,896 m).
Cystopteris fragilisL. Bernh. Brittle Fern. Fronds loosely tufted, 2–12 in (5–30 cm) long, lacking persistent stems from prior seasons; blades broadly lanceolate, bright green, thin and delicate, and the stem easily broken; segments variously lobed.
Distribution. Moist, protected places; Pinyon-juniper Woodland to Alpine Zone, 8,000–13,700 ft (2,439–4,177 m).
Notholaena parryiD.C. Eat. Parry Cloak Fern. Fronds clustered, 3–8 in (7.5–20 cm) long; blades narrowly ovate-oblong, densely woolly on both sides; segments round to oblong.
Distribution. Dry places, usually under overhanging rocks or in crevices; Desert Scrub and Pinyon-juniper Woodland, 3,500–9,700 ft (1,062–2,957 m).
Pellaea breweriD.C. Eat. Brewer Cliff Brake. Fronds 2–8 in (5–20 cm) long; blades with 6–12 pairs of leaflets that are essentially two-parted, with the upper part larger, firm; bases of old stems persistent.
Distribution. Exposed, rocky places; Pinyon-juniper Woodland to Alpine Zone, 7,900–12,000 ft (2,408–3,658 m).
Woodsia scopulinaD.C. Eat. Rocky Mountain Woodsia. Similar to Cystopteris fragilis, but the leaves are not as thin and veiny, and they have gland-tipped hairs on the surface. Bases of old stems are conspicuously persistent.
Distribution. Rocky places, commonly on moist talus slopes or high meadows; Pinyon-juniper Woodland and Subalpine Zone 8,000–11,000 ft (2,439–3,354 m).