Clubmosses produce extended rooting swags of rounded stems dressed in needlelike leaves. They were formerly classified as fern allies but under the scrutiny of modern research techniques (Moran 2004) now have a family tree of their own. (See Selaginella for comments.) Sometimes called "ground pine" or "running pine," visually descriptive although botanically incorrect epithets, these spore-bearing plants are
Lycopodiella appressa inconspicuously shares the bog at Websmill in the Pinelands of New Jersey.
Challenging to cultivate, Lycopodium annotinum spreads like an upright stand of conifers in the Jessen garden.
included here because of their traditional association with the fern community.
Internationally there are 350 to 400 species with habitat preferences ranging from groundcovering colonies in temperate forests to long skirts of epiphytic draperies in humid temperate to tropical climates. The latter with their tassels of fertile cones (strobili) and frequently unfamiliar green garments offer a fascinating departure from traditional basket subjects especially in conservatories.
Botanically, lycopodiums (from the Greek lykos, wolf, and podes, foot, describing the somewhat imaginative resemblance of the branch tips to a wolf's paw) can be separated from Hu-perzia by the long-creeping stems as well as, when fertile, separate drooping or upright spore-bearing cones often carried on stalks. The irregular branching of the upright shoots distinguishes them from Lycopodiella, which has unbranched shoots, and from Diphasiastrum, which has regular and equal branching.
Lycopodiums are sometimes cultivated, but with attendant difficulties. The woodland species are frequently associated with specific soil fungi, and need excellent drainage but moisture and highly acid soil in partial shade. In baskets the epiphytic species are easier but need warmth, humidity, a crumbly soil mix for drainage, and good air circulation.
Propagation is by division. Be sure to take a growing tip. Spores are produced in great clouds, but I once read (a myth?) that they need to go through the digestive tract of an animal in order to germinate so have not explored that option. They germinate underground and even under ideal conditions can take from months to years to produce a plant.
The spores, especially of Lycopodium clavatum, can be fun, however, as with their oil content they are highly flammable (and were once called witch's flour in parts of Europe). Try tossing some on the campfire for mini fireworks. More practically, in the early days of photography they were used as flash powder. In addition because of their water-repellent properties, they have been used much as one would use talcum powder. Pharmacists used them for coating pills among other applications.
The foliage also had assorted uses. Medicinally a concoction made with dried leaves and wine was recommended as a cure for gout (which sounds like an oxymoron). Socially, garlands of the trailing stems were popular adornments for festive occasions and were prized not only for being ornamental, but also for purported aphrodisiacal effects.
Lycopodium annotinum (with distinct annual increments), the bristly clubmoss, is an extremely widespread evergreen species with populations throughout the world. Crawling stems are up to a yard (1 m) long and bear upright 6-in. (15-
Lycopodium cernuum with its treelike tiers of branches near a miniature Agave species and minor form of Ophiopogon japonicum (mondo grass). It has grown and spread here for years, transplanted from a road bank as a tangle of rooted branches. Photo by George Schenk.
cm) shoots of bristly foliage topped with a solitary fertile cone. The branches are pinched with annual bud constrictions. The species is a denizen of Zones 3 to 6 in acid soil in wet woods and bogs to grasslands and rocky alpine slopes. The structural composition of plants varies extensively depending on altitude and environment.
Lycopodium cernuum, a pantropical sprawler, spreads its stringy green branches into a yard-wide (meter-wide) patch on sunny road banks and in farm animal pastures (they will not eat it). From these prostrate branches, fir-treelike structures arise to 1 or 2 ft. (30 or 60 cm) in height, bearing pendant cones at the tips of the "tree's" boughs. In the Philippines, the conifer portions of L. cernuum are gathered commercially just before Christmas, taken to Manila, hung with miniature ornaments, and made into tabletop Christmas trees. I grow this clubmoss in a sunny rock garden but have found that this species is not always easy to establish: other transplants have lived for a year or two and then faded away. (Description by George Schenk.)
Lycopodium clavatum (club-shaped), common clubmoss or running pine, does indeed run to 3 ft. (90 cm) or more. Upright 4-in. (10-cm) shoots (not counting the strobili) with bright green, hair-tipped leaves branch and fork from a trunklike base. One to five cream-colored fertile cones are held upright on a pale and sometimes branched narrow stalk (peduncle). The sight of groves of these minute yellow "clubs," when produced en masse and supported on sheets of glossy greenery, is a truly memorable woodland experience. This variable evergreen species in its assorted manifestations is one of the world's most common lycophytes and is native to Zones 3 to 8 on forest floors and open sites in acid soil. The hair-tipped leaves are diagnostically significant and unique to the species.
Lycopodium dendroideum (treelike), synonym L. obscurum var. dendroideum, is an upright 8- to 10-in. (20- to 25-cm) tall, multibranching, evergreen tree with minute V8 to 1/4 in. (3 to 6 mm) bright green leaves. Up to seven 1- to 2-in. (2.5- to 5-cm) cones are carried without a stalk at the tips of the shoots. The growth is without annual ring constrictions and is botanically and visually very similar to L. obscurum. Observable differences presented by Flora of North America (1993) are rounded lateral shoots with nontwisting leaves equal in size in L. den-droideum versus lateral shoots that are flat in cross section carrying twisting leaves that are unequal in size in L. obscurum. It is happy in and around bogs and wet woods in a broad continental sweep from Zone 2 Alaska to the Atlantic coast.
Lycopodium fastigiatum (erect), the alpine clubmoss, is an upright species that is common in the mountainous areas of New Zealand and Australia. The dense tufts of up to foot-tall (30-cm) compact bushlets are recognized and noted for their incurved leaves. The whole may turn a bright orange in exposed alpine areas.
Lycopodium obscurum (dark), tree clubmoss, spreads across the woods of eastern North America in shaded, light woodland duff giving the understory a carpet of miniature, shrubby "trees" looking like western red cedar (Thujaplicata) seedlings. Lax 8-in. (20-cm) tiers of deep green foliage are without annual bud constrictions and topped with one to four stalkless cones. The species is structurally similar to L. dendroideum and found in comparable moist woodland to boggy habitats as well as sites in slightly drier shade. It can be cultivated but takes an expert's hand and devotion to proper husbandry. Give it acid, humusy soil and a regular dose of light irrigation.
Was this article helpful?