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Description: The Filicopsida are vascular plants which are diverse in form and grow in various habitats from epiphytic or terrestrial to aquatic, they lack flowers and reproduce sexually by spores. The sporophyte varies from herbaceous to arborescent and consists of true roots, stems and spirally arranged true leaves (fronds) which are either simple or markedly compound. In most cases the stem, or rhizome, is underground or on the surface of the ground and is usually protected by a covering of scales and/or hairs.

The fronds are usually characteristically circinate (that is, coiled) when young.

The spores are of one, or more rarely of two different kinds; they are produced in sporangia which are aggregated into sori or scattered over the lower surface of the frond. The position, shape, structure and degree of protection of the sorus is important in the identification of ferns. The spores produce a small independent prothallus which is delicate and mostly less than 1 cm diameter. After fusion of the gametes produced by the sex organs on the prothallus the independent sporophyte, or fern plant, develops.

Distribution and occurrence: World: c. 40–79 families, >350 genera, >9000 species, cosmopolitan. Australia: 30 families, 102 genera, 411 species (114 endemic), all States.

Sometimes ranked as a Division, Polyodiophyta.

Text by Peter G. Wilson
Taxon concept:

 Key to the class FILICOPSIDA 
1Plants rooted in soil or mud, or epiphytic2
Plants free-floating12
2Fertile fronds borne as an offshoot of the sterile fronds, the two parts markedly different; vernation not circinateOPHIOGLOSSACEAE
Fertile and sterile fronds borne separately on rhizome, or all fronds fertile; vernation circinate
                       Back to 1
3Sporangia borne on the surface of the fronds, often covered by an indusium or by the recurved margin of the frond; never completely enclosed by a modified frond (sporocarp)4
Sporangia completely enclosed in a sporocarp; sterile leaves filiform or with four leaflets
                       Back to 2
4Stipes with an expanded, stipule-like base; sporangia relatively large, ± sessile, rounded to oval in shape, splitting along a central line5
Stipes with base lacking stipule-like structures; sporangia smaller, on short stalks, splitting vertically or laterally
                       Back to 3
5Stipule-like structures fleshy, trunk short (to 80 cm) and massive, with a single crownMARATTIACEAE
Stipule-like structures thin; trunk taller, usually with 2 or more crowns
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6Sori on narrow segments borne in pinnate groups at tips of the fertile fronds, or projecting from the margins of the pinnae of fertile frondsSCHIZAEACEAE
Sori not borne on such projections
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7Aquatic fern with spongy stipes; fronds strongly dimorphicPARKERIACEAE
Terrestrial or epiphytic ferns
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8Arborescent ferns9
Non-arborescent ferns
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9Trunk and base of stipes scaly; indusia absent or scale-likeCYATHEACEAE
Trunk and base of stipes hairy; sori located in 2-lipped cups, the outer lip formed from the recurved margin of the lamina, the inner lip the true indusium
                       Back to 8
10Fronds pseudodichotomously branched with dormant apical budsGLEICHENIACEAE
Fronds not branching in this manner
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11Sori ± enclosed by the strongly revolute margins of the pinnae, the fronds long and narrow; rhizomes hairyPLATYZOMATACEAE
Sori marginal or superficial, margins of fronds often recurved but never strongly revolute; rhizomes sometimes hairy
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12Leaves c. 20 mm long, covered in long papillaeSALVINIACEAE
Leaves small, 1–2 mm long, imbricate in 2 rows
                       Back to 1
13Sori restricted to the marginal or submarginal region of the lamina, if submarginal usually covered by a false indusium14
Sori superficial
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14Rhizomes covered with hairs or bristles17
Rhizomes covered with scales
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15Fronds simple29
Fronds pinnatifid or more compound
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16Sori elongated along the veins or sporangia scattered over much of the surface of the lamina35
Sori circular
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17Sporangia borne on a columnar or filiform receptacle within a 2-valved or cupular involucreHYMENOPHYLLACEAE
Sporangia borne on the surface of the lamina
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18Sori circular, indusia 2-lipped with the inner lip the true indusium19
Either sori circular and indusium false and formed from the recurved margin or sori linear and with true indusia present or absent
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19The 2 lips free, inner membranous and obscure, indumentum on stipe base of long hairs; lamina ± leathery.(Calochlaena)DICKSONIACEAE
The 2 lips fused to form a cup, indumentum on stipe base of very short, dense hairs; lamina soft and membranous
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20True indusia present21
Indusia false (formed by recurved lamina margin) or absent
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21Indusia cup-like, attached at the base and sides.(Davallia)DAVALLIACEAE
Indusia flap-like
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22Sori borne along single veinsASPLENIACEAE
Sori borne across the tips of a number of veins
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23Epiphytes, leaves simple, linear, rhizome scales clathrateVITTARIACEAE
Terrestrial plants, leaves compound; rhizome scales not clathrate
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24Fronds simply pinnate25
Fronds at least 2-pinnate or 2-pinnatifid
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25Pinnae leathery, veins not readily visible; sori continuous in broad bands along each margin of the pinna.(Pellaea)SINOPTERIDACEAE
Pinnae herbaceous, veins readily visible; sori continuous in narrow bands
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26Recurved margin covering and bearing the sorus, the whole structure being ± reniformADIANTACEAE
Recurved margin not bearing the sorus
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27Pinnae rarely >5 cm long; sori and indusia short, sori becoming confluent (indusia sometimes absent).(Cheilanthes)SINOPTERIDACEAE
Pinnae usually >5 cm long; sori and indusia linear
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28Rhizomes tufted or short-creeping.(Pteris)PTERIDACEAE
Rhizomes long-creeping.(Histiopteris)
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29Sori circular30
Sori elongated or confluent and covering whole areas of the frond
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30Fronds articulate on the rhizome, scales of rhizome peltate and/or clathratePOLYPODIACEAE
Fronds not articulated, scales of rhizome neither peltate nor clathrate
                       Back to 29
31Indusia present32
Indusia absent
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32Indusia parallel with the primary veinBLECHNACEAE
Indusia running along the secondary veins
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33Sporangia borne on the much narrowed tail-like apex of the fertile frond.(Belvisia)POLYPODIACEAE
Apex of fronds not very narrow and tail-like
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34Sporangia scattered, becoming confluent; stipe and lamina bearing stellate hairs.(Pyrrosia)POLYPODIACEAE
Sori oblique, usually remaining distinct; stipe and lamina bearing simple or branched hairs
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35Bracket epiphytes with 2 kinds of fronds, green fertile fronds plus brown or green sterile nest-fronds.(Platycerium)POLYPODIACEAE
Plants usually terrestrial, fronds of one kind but may be dimorphic
                       Back to 16
36Indusia present37
Indusia absent
                       Back to 35
37Sori parallel with the primary and secondary veins of the frond, fronds 1-pinnatifid to 1-pinnateBLECHNACEAE
Sori oblique with respect to main vein of the segment, or a main vein lacking; fronds more compound, usually at least 2-pinnatifid
                       Back to 36
38Rhizome scales not clathrate; indusia often double (i.e., one on each side of a vein), especially at the base of the segmentATHYRIACEAE
Rhizome scales clathrate; indusia always single
                       Back to 37
39Fronds pinnate, segments with distinct petiolules; sporangia covering the entire lower surface of the fertile pinnae.(Acrostichum)PTERIDACEAE
Fronds otherwise; sporangia, at least when first formed, along veins
                       Back to 36
40Rhizome scales clathrate, fronds and stipes covered with long hairs.(Pleurosorus)ASPLENIACEAE
Rhizome scales not clathrate, fronds glabrous or the lower surface covered with a waxy powder
                       Back to 39
41Fronds delicate and membranous.(Cystopteris)ATHYRIACEAE
Fronds herbaceous to leathery
                       Back to 16
42Fronds of 2 kinds (green fertile fronds plus brown nest-fronds), veins anastomosing.(Drynaria)POLYPODIACEAE
Fronds of 1 kind, but may vary in shape
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43Rhizomes covered with hairs.(Hypolepis)DENNSTAEDTIACEAE
Rhizomes covered with scales
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44Rhizome scales peltate, stipe often articulate on the rhizome45
Rhizome scales not peltate, stipe not articulate on rhizome
                       Back to 43
45Fronds pinnatifid (or simple), veins anastomosing; sori large, usually 2 mm or more diam.(Microsorum)POLYPODIACEAE
Fronds 1-pinnate or more divided, veins free; sori small, <2 mm diam
                       Back to 44
46Fronds pinnatisect.(Doodia)BLECHNACEAE
Fronds at least 1-pinnate
                       Back to 44
47Fronds 1-pinnate to 2-pinnatifid (sometimes pinnatifid at apex)48
Fronds 2-pinnate or more compound
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48Pinnae ± oblong in outline, never divided completely into pinnules at the base, veins anastomosing at the bases of the lobes and running to the fork between the lobesTHELYPTERIDACEAE
Pinnae ovate to lanceolate in outline, veins free or copiously anastomosing
                       Back to 47
49Fronds with lamina membranous, sori without indusium, rhizome scales finely ciliate.(Macrothelypteris)THELYPTERIDACEAE
Fronds with lamina usually leathery, sori indusiate (except for 1 sp.), rhizome scales entire or finely toothed
                       Back to 47

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