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Clubmoss Spores Maturing

11-3-17 bristly clubmoss 049A7253

Creeping along the forest floor are small (6” high), evergreen perennial plants that resemble mosses or miniature conifers. Their leaves are usually narrow, shiny and pointed and frequently of similar size. These fern allies (not true ferns) are referred to as clubmosses.   What look like individual plants often are upright stems that come off of one horizontal stem that grows along or under the ground.

Clubmosses evolved some 410 million years ago as one of the earliest groups of vascular plants (plants with special tissues, xylem and phloem, to conduct water and food, respectively). Roughly 300 million years ago, tree forms of both clubmosses and horsetails along with ferns dominated the great coal swamps of the Carboniferous geological period. Fossils reveal that tree forms of clubmosses once reached heights of 100 feet.

Pictured is Bristly Clubmoss (Spinulum annotinum, formerly Lycopodium annotinum). Like all ferns and fern allies, it reproduces with spores, not seeds, and thus has no flowers. The spores are borne on the single cone, or strobilus you see at the tips of the upright stems, and they are maturing now. A slight tap at this time of year will produce a voluminous cloud of yellow spores.

8 responses

  1. Caron

    I believe the spores from this plant can be flammable and have been historically in ceremonies and old flash photography.

    November 3, 2017 at 9:38 am


    I think you see these in the woods.


    November 3, 2017 at 10:29 am

  3. Kathie Fiveash

    I remember being in the woods once with someone who collected the spores in a test tube by inserting single cones into the tube and knocking out the pollen. When he had enough and corked the test tube, the spores looked/behaved like a golden liquid. Each spore must be like a tiny perfect ball bearing. It was like something out of a fairy tale – so beautiful.

    November 3, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    • What a wonderful idea – I’ll have to give this a try!

      November 3, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    • I am definitely going to have to do this!

      November 4, 2017 at 8:54 am

  4. Phil Fitzpatrick

    Is clubmoss also called ground pine?

    November 4, 2017 at 7:27 am

    • Hi Phil, Yes, there are a number of club mosses whose common names include “ground pine.” Bristly Clubmoss doesn’t happen to be one of them.

      November 4, 2017 at 8:51 am

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