Plants terrestrial. Rhizome erect or ascending (rarely short or prostrate), vascular system a complex solenostele or dictyostele, scaly; scales brown, narrowly lanceolate or linear, membranous, firm. Fronds clustered; stipe deeply grooved adaxially, with one vascular bundle V-shaped in cross section; fronds mostly 1- or 2-pinnate, rarely 3-pinnate (Pteris cryptogrammoides), pedate, or sometimes 3-forked, pinnae entire or pectinately divided into segments, sometimes asymmetrical; basal pinnae often with 1 (or more) pinnule near base on basiscopic side, this similar to main part of pinna but smaller; apical pinnae similar to lateral pinnae; costa or midvein deeply grooved adaxially, often with awns on base of each costa; venation free or areolate, veins simple or 2-forked, if areolate then with regular rows of narrow areoles along costa (sometimes also along segment costules), a few species with veinlike heterocells (false veins) below epidermis (P. cadieri, P. grevilleana, P. multifida, etc.); lamina herbaceous or papery when dried, sometimes subleathery, glabrous or rarely pubescent. Sori linear, along margin, except at base or basal sinus and apex, with paraphyses; annulus consisting of 16-34 incrassate cells; spores trilete (a few species with monolete spores), gray or black, surfaces scabrous or verrucose. x = 29.
About 250 species: distributed in tropical and subtropical areas, southward to New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa, north to Japan and North America; 78 species (35 endemic) in three sections in China.
Of the 78 Chinese species of Pteris, most occur mainly in S and SW China, with a few species in E China south of the Qin Ling.
Apomixis is frequent in Pteris; the gametophytes bud off embryos without fertilization.
Pteris natiensis Tagawa (J. Jap. Bot. 14: 109. 1938) has been recorded in China (Fl. Zhejiang 1: 86. 1986), but Japanese authors consider this species to be endemic to Japan.
Five uncertain taxa, not included in the following keys, are listed at the end of the account.
Pteris blumeana C. Agardh (Recens. Spec. Pter. 22. 1839; P. quadriaurita Retzius var. blumeana (C. Agardh) C. B. Clarke), recorded from Yunnan.
Pteris hunanensis C. M. Zhang (in W. T. Wang et al., Keys Vasc. Pl. Wuling Mount. 562. 1995), described from Hunan. The image of the type shows a single incomplete frond probably belonging to P. sect. Pteris.
Pteris intromissa Christ (Philipp. J. Sci., C, 2: 173. 1907). As well as a number of collections from the Philippines, the protologue mentioned a collection by Henry from China (“Swatow”), but this collection has not been seen.
Pteris rufopilosa Ching & Y. X. Lin (Acta Phytotax. Sin. 22: 197. 1984), described from Xizang (Mêdog) and compared with P. austrosinica (Ching) Ching in the protologue.
Pteris shimenensis C. M. Zhang (in W. T. Wang et al., Keys Vasc. Pl. Wuling Mount. 561. 1995), described from Hunan.