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Clubmoss Leaf

Despite their common name, clubmosses are not technically mosses, but rather are evergreen herbs usually included in the group of plants known as fern allies. Like ferns, clubmosses are flowerless and seedless, and have true leaves, stems, and roots.

Clubmoss Leaf

The primitive plants were once among the most dominant flora on Earth, growing nearly 100 feet high and being particularly abundant during the Carboniferous Era, 360 million to 286 million years ago. Regardless of their size, the stems of clubmosses never contained woody tissues like those of trees. The massive amounts of clubmoss vegetation present during that time greatly contributed to the coal deposits that are utilized today as a human source of fuel as they decayed.

Modern clubmosses, most of which are classified in the genus Lycopodium, are much smaller in size than their great ancestors. The heights of all of the approximately 200 species of plants that comprise the genus are better measured in inches rather than feet. A well-known representative of the group is the stag’s horn moss (L. clavatum), which generally does not grow higher than 4 inches or longer than 10 feet. The creeping plant is most commonly found in rocky or open, arid habitats north of the equator and is the primary source of what is traditionally known as lycopodium powder, dried clubmoss spores that have been used to produce fireworks, flash powder, and theatrical flame effects.

Contributing Authors

Nathan S. Claxton, Shannon H. Neaves, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.