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This is a predominantly Mexican species of rocky open slopes, which barely extends into the United States in extreme southeastern Arizona (where it is rare—S1S2—NatureServe, 2008). There are two currently recognized varieties with non-overlapping geographic ranges, which probably represent distinct species. Further study is needed. Notholaena lemmonii var. lemmonii has dark leaf stalks, long rhizome scales, and occurs from the Mexican state of Jalisco north, whereas N. lemmonii var. australis R. M. Tryon has light stalks, shorter rhizome scales, and is found only in Michoacán, Guerrero, Oaxaca, and México (Mickel and Smith, 2004).
Notholaena lemmonii var. lemmonii is one of the notholaenid taxa that exhibits interesting variation in farina color and chemistry (Wollenweber, 1984). Most individuals have white or very pale yellow farina, but some plants, particularly from the islands of the Gulf of California, have deep orange farina. The taxonomic significance of these chemotypes warrants further attention.
The position of N. lemmonii within core Notholaena II (as inferred from plastid DNA sequences—Rothfels et al., 2008) is a little odd, given that it has long linear leaves, and thus superficially resembles the members of core Notholaena I. However, N. lemmonii is glabrous, while most member of core Notholaena I are scaly. It and the closely related N. meridionalis appear to represent a single independent transition to linear leaves (Rothfels unpublished).