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This species is close to Notholaena schaffneri and is usually treated as a variety of that species (e.g., Mickel and Smith, 2004; Tryon, 1956). Windham (1993a), however, suggests that Notholaena nealleyi is most likely a sexual allotetraploid (a species that has one complete chromosome set from each of two different species), with N. schaffneri as one of its parents and the other parent unknown. The two taxa—N. nealleyi and N. schaffneri—are largely geographically isolated. The former is limited to southern Texas and the adjacent northern Mexican state of Coahuila, while the latter ranges across most of central Mexico. Notholaena nealleyi prefers to grow on calcareous rocks, usually limestone.