Lycopodiaceae : Club-moss Family


Scientific Name:

Kingdom: Plantae



Family:Lycopodaceae (Club-moss Family)

(Gk.Lyco=wolf+podos=foot in reference to either the branch shoot tips or the roots to a wolfs paw)

Genera: 1 or (3)


Some taxonomies also recognize:



Species: 6

L.alpinum syn. Diphasiastrum alpinum



L.complanatum syn. Diphasiastrum complanatum


L.selago syn. Huperzia selago

English Name(s):

Club-moss Family

(Club referring to the club shape of the strobili (spore cone) and moss referring to some plants resemblance to moss)

Gwich'in Name:

Family Traits


  • Small Perennial evergreen plants.
  • Stems horizontal, branched, creeping above ground producing erect ar ascending, unbranched to much-branched ariel stems.
  • Fertile stems 6-20 cm tall. Leaves superficially bristle/needle like, or scale like (cedar like).
  • Most species bear spores in a strobili (spore cone) at end of branches, with or without peduncle (stalk).
  • PerennialSpores numerous, powdery, yellow.

Natural History:

  • The Club-moss family is an ancient family about 300 million years old. The ansestors of the Lycopodium sps. were giant tree-like plants growing to 30 metres (100ft) in height. They flourished around the world during the Paloexoic Era and were major contributors to the formation of coal beds.
  • Club-mosses reproduce by spores. In all but 1 of our species, the spores are born in a strobili (spore cone) at the end of a stalk. The spores once shed germinate into a thalus (A plant body not differentiated into leaves or stem). The thalus produces male and female cells which can self fertilize or cross firtilize with the cells of other thaluses of the same species.
  • The Life cycles of Lycopodium sps. are very long, taking numerous years rather than just one or two.

Family Size:


Genera: 2-8 (depending on taxonomic system used)

Species: 450

North America:

Genera: 1 (3?)

Species: ?


Genera: 1 (3)

Species: 6



  • Up to 200 sps. globally.
  • Is the original genus of the family. This genuses charactaristics depend on what plants are split off into other genera.
  • Typically when othere genera are split off of Lycopodium, the club shaped strobilli and needle like leave distinguish this genus from others.


  • 10-15 sps. globally
  • Very similar to Lycopodium. The distinguishing feature of this genus from Lycopodium is these plants have branches/leaves with scale like leaves, resembling cedars.


  • Up to 400 sps. globally though signifigantly less if it is itself divided into smaller genera.
  • some classification systems treat Huperzia along with 2 other genera from Lycopodiaceae as thier own family called Huperziaceae.
  • These plants differ from other
  • Lycopodaceae sps. in that they do not produce thier spores in strobili located at the tips of stalks, but in small sporangia (spore producing tissue) located at the leaf axils (where the leaf meets the stem)

Illustrated Key To Lycopodiaceae Species







Dicotomous Key To Lycopodiaceae Species

  • A: Leaves bristly, and needle-like
  • A: Leaves not bristly, or needle-like
    • E: Strobili born on peduncle at top of branches: L.complanatum
    • E: Strobili born at top of branches not peduncled: L. alpinum

Uses of Club-mosses


  • Plants used for dying and produce shades of cream, gold and olive green.
  • Plant has been used as a mordant to set certain dyes
  • Spores are very rich in oil and are highly flammable.
  • Medicinal:
  • spores have been used as a dusting powder in surgery, baby powder, and various skin problems including exema and chaffed skin. the spores repel water so strongly that a hand dusted with them can be dipped in water with out becoming wet.
  • Their use as an anti-absorbent is limited as they are known to irritate mucous membranes.
  • Known to contain nicotine
  • The spores were used as a dusting powder in the drug trade, protecting abrading surfaces and preventing pills from sticking together.
  • Food:

Traditional Gwich'in:


Traditional Other:

  • Divination; The Cree placed the spores of Lycopodium sps. in a container of water. If the spores radiated toward the sun the patient would survive his/her illness.
  • Industrial:
  • At one time used by photographers and theater performers as flash powder.
  • Medicinal:
  • Have been used to make a decoction that is cooled and used as a medicinal eye wash.
  • The Carrier used to put them spores in the nose to cause bleeding and cure headaches.
  • Plant was dried powdered and used to make a tea to increase urine production, stimulate menstral flow and relieve spasms. The tea was said to be useful for correcting 'female complaints' and was said to stimulate sexual desire.
  • It was said that if the spores were boiled, the decoction would both kill lice and improve bad wine.
  • Food:

Life Cycle

  • Mature sporophyte (clubmoss plant) produces spores in sporangia (spore producing organs) ussually located in strobilli (spore cone).(top middle and right)
  • Spores are dropped from the sporangia to the ground. (middle right)
  • Spores germinate into the gametophyte (gamete producing plant) thalus (plant body not differentiated into stems and leaves). (bottom right)
  • Mature gametophytes produce microspores (male gametes, sperm) and megaspores (female gametes, egg). (bottom middle)
  • When wet, such as after rain, the microspores (sperm) swim out of the microsporangium and into the megasporangium where one will fetilize the megaspore (egg). (middle left)
  • The sporophyte then grows out of the megasporangium and the gemetophyte thalus dies. (top left)
  • The cycle begins again...

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