August 4, 2013

High moisture excellent for clubmoss carpets

This summer I have seen beautiful carpets of clubmoss.

Clubmosses are in the family Lycopodiaceae. They are among my favorite plants because they are so simple and so pretty. They grow on long runners that spread out and form unique, trailing patterns or four-inch thick tapestries on the forest floor.

Like ferns and true mosses, clubmosses prefer moist, rich soil beneath a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees that provide leaf litter for nutrients but shade to hold moisture. Clubmosses are evergreen and show brightly from first snowmelt in spring until first snowfall in winter.

The high moisture in the forest this year has produced excellent conditions for several species that grow together in extensive patches.

As a child I was taught the name Princess Pine for what many people know of as Ground Cedar. It looks like a forest of miniature cedar trees, with flat scale-like leaves pressed tightly against each other like the scales of an Arborvitae. Ground Cedar is a bright, glossy spring green in color.

Tree Clubmoss looks like miniature trees but stands more upright than Ground Cedar and is a darker green.

Running Clubmoss is also known as Wolf’s Claws and looks like a furry vine. Usually rhizomes grow beneath loose leaf litter but long runners can also grow on the surface of the ground, reaching many feet in length.

This week the most stunning of all was the Shining Clubmoss. I walked through a section of forest that had wide swaths on both sides of the trail and it literally shone beneath the mixed beech and spruce/balsam canopy. The colony was so thick and healthy my boots were covered up to my ankles in lush, soft green.

Clubmoss is special for many reasons — it is a vascular plant that is among the ancient plants of the earth.

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