Plants epilithic, sometimes xerophytic (growing in dry habitats), small or medium-sized. Rhizomes short, erect, decumbent, or ascending, simple dictyostelic, covered with scales. Fronds clustered, monomorphic, deciduous or sometimes evergreen; stipe mostly shorter than lamina, ± scaly and hairy, articulate or not articulate; lamina 1-pinnate to bipinnatifid, elliptic-lanceolate to narrowly lanceolate, herbaceous or papery, frequently covered with articulate multicellular hairs, sometimes with glandular hairs or capitate glands. Veins free, pinnate, usually ending in enlarged hydathodes. Sori orbicular, consisting of 3-18 sporangia, borne at middle or apex of veinlets; indusia inferior, saucer-shaped to cup-shaped, margin long ciliate, or indusia absent, degenerated into curly, multicellular hairs (Woodsia), or sphaeropteroid (bladderlike) with openings at tip (Protowoodsia), sometimes also covered with false indusia, i.e., reflexed leaf margins (Cheilanthopsis). Spores ellipsoid or somewhat spherical, monolete, wall surface folded, cristate, tuberculate, or echinate.
About four genera (including the Caucasian Hymenocystis C. A. Meyer) and ca. 43 species: widely distributed in the N temperate and frigid zones, rarely in Central and South America, Africa (Angola, South Africa), and Madagascar; three genera and 24 species (nine endemic) in China.
The current classification of the genera requires evaluation by molecular phylogenetic evidence.
Wu Shiew-hung. 1999. Woodsiaceae. In: Wu Shiew-hung, ed., Fl. Reipubl. Popularis Sin. 4(2): 166-191.