Something Completely New (to Me)

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While doing photographer’s yoga trying to get decent pictures of princess pine, I happened to spy something different. Carefully making my way down a wet slope, then squatting and bracing against a beech tree, I was able to photograph several clumps of this plant: Huperzia lucidula, commonly known as firmoss or shining clubmoss.

Like the Dendrolycopodium in my last post, firmoss is a vascular plant that reproduces via spores rather than seeds, and is in the Lycopodiaceae.  It ranges across the eastern US, in wooded ravines and hillsides and other shady, moist places with plenty of leaf litter.  It grows in clumps, with the vertical stems reaching no more than eight inches tall.

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This plant is completely new to me, made more exciting because I found it in freaking January.

Tree Wolf Foot

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overhead shot; beech leaves on the ground give a sense of scale

 

Last summer I wrote about a flowering plant in the genus Lycopus. This post is about something completely different, way far away in the taxonomic hierarchy, a vascular but not seed-bearing plant in the genus Dendrolycopodium (family Lycopodiaceae).

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the “cone”, properly known as a strobilus, which contains the spores

 

Commonly known as ground pine, or princess pine, or clubmoss, it isn’t a pine, nor a moss. Vaguely related to ferns (in that they reproduce via spores rather than seeds), these primitive plants are covered in simple, single-veined, needle-like leaves. A plant consists of an underground stem with vertical shoots that seldom exceed twelve inches tall.

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look how tiny those leaves are! no more than a quarter of an inch long

 

There are four species within this genus, three of which can be found in eastern North America. According to BONAP and the Maryland Biodiversity Project, only one of those species is found in Montgomery County, and for that reason (rather than properly keying out a specimen), I’m calling this one Dendrolycopodium obscurum, which in addition to the above names is also called flat-branched tree clubmoss.

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who loves acidic soils? princess pine (Dendrolycopodium obscurum) growing with prince’s pine (Chimaphila maculata) – no kidding!

 

This species seems to be found mostly in the upper Midwest, New England, and the Appalachians. It’s rare in Indiana and exploitably vulnerable in New York. It likes moist, acidic soils in woodlands. As I wrote a few days ago, I found an extensive stand on a slope near several species in the Ericaceae, which as a rule of thumb like acidic soils.

This isn’t a rare plant, but it’s unusual to find a big stand of them. This is a good time of year to look for low-growing evergreen forbs. And if you’re a geek like me, you’ll geotag a picture so you can find them again.