August 4, 2013

High moisture excellent for clubmoss carpets


Marion Lobstein, writing for the Prince William Wildflower Society, commented that, “Some 300-plus million years ago, tree forms of both clubmosses and horsetails along with ferns dominated the great coal swamps of the Carboniferous geological period. Tree forms of tree clubmosses that once reached heights of 100 feet have left an excellent fossil record.”

Imagine a forest of 100-foot-tall clubmosses, ferns and horsetails.

Most clubmosses reproduce by spores that grow on tall candle-like structures at the ends of the short branches. When they are dry the spores are highly flammable; if they are blown into a flame they create a bright, rapid-burning flash without generating heat. The spores of clubmoss were made into powder that was used in Victorian theater and magic shows to create flashes on stage and also used in early flash photography.

Unfortunately it is illegal to harvest clubmosses because they were extensively harvested for the dry spores and for decorative roping and wreaths. Most species are protected in New York and considered “exploitably vulnerable native plants,” which are likely to become threatened if harvest is not controlled.

These are definitely plants to treasure.

Elizabeth Lee is a licensed guide who lives in Westport. She leads recreational and educational programs focused in the Champlain Valley throughout the year. Contact her at

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