Lycopodium clavatum (Running Clubmoss)

Plant Info
Also known as: Running Ground-pine
Family:Lycopodiaceae (Clubmoss)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; moist to dry sandy or rocky soil; deciduous, mixed or conifer forest, forest edges, meadows, bog edges
Fruiting season:July - October
Plant height:4 to 10 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: none MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: whorl Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are evergreen, crowded and alternate but spirally arranged with 12 to 20 evenly spaced leaves in a cycle, appearing as 12 to 20 columns when viewed from the side of the stem (12 to 20-ranked), and round in cross-section (like a bottle brush). Leaves are spreading to ascending, often curved upward, about ¼ inch (4 to 6 mm) long, to .8 mm wide, medium green, toothless, linear with a white, hair-like extension at the tip that is half or more as long as the blade. The hair-like tip may shed but usually persists.

[photo of shoot branches] Stems are horizontal, running above ground or just below the surface of the duff layer, but not underground. At fairly regular intervals, erect shoots emerge, each with 3 to 6 ascending to spreading branches, the main branches usually with a few lateral branches. Each year's new growth is marked by a distinct constriction where the annual bud grew, typically with a whorl of smaller leaves at that point. Horizontal stems can reach 9 feet long and the erect shoots up to 10 inches tall.

Spores: Fruit type: spores on stalk

[photo of strobili] Spores develop in spike-like or cone-like structures called strobili. 2 to 5 strobili (rarely 1), ½ to 1¼ inches long, are clustered a the end of a long stalk, each strobilus also distinctly stalked. The cluster stalk is up to 5 inches long with appressed, scale-like leaves spiraling up at regular intervals, the scales also with hair-like extensions at the tip.

[close-up of hair-like extensions on sporophylls and stalk scales] Each tiny spore sac is attached to a scale (sporophyll) that is less than 1/8 inch (to 2.5mm) long, tear-drop shaped and tapering to a slender, sharply pointed tip with a hair-like extension. Scales are initially light green and tightly appressed, turning yellowish as they mature and light brown when dry, then become more spreading to release the spores in late summer into fall. The strobili persist through winter.


Running Clubmoss is common in Minnesota's forests north of the Metro area and has a world-wide distribution. It is one of two Minnesota clubmoss species still in the Lycopodium genus, which many references have now split into several genera and we have followed suit. Distinguishing characteristics of the new groups are: whether spores develop in cone-like strobili or in leaf (or leaf-like) axils, whether strobili are stalked or stalkless, whether horizontal stems are above or below ground, whether branching on erect shoots is tree-like or not, the number of leaves in a spiral cycle, whether leaves are scale-like or not and whether they have a hair-like tip. The Lycopodium species all have stalked strobili, above ground horizontal stems, leaves that are not scale-like, are 12 to 20-ranked and have a hair-like tip. Running Clubmoss also has 2 to 5 strobili in a cluster (rarely 1) each of which is stalked, and erect shoots have 3 to 6 ascending to spreading branches. The above ground stems, branching of the erect shoots, and spreading leaves that have a hair-like tip can help identify it even when strobili are not present.

The other Lycopodium species in Minnesota, One-cone Clubmoss (Lycopodium lagopus) usually has a single cone at the tip of the stalk, occasionally two, when two are present they are stalkless at the tip of the cluster stalk, leaves tend to be more ascending to appressed than spreading, and branches tend to be fewer and more erect. The differences can be subtle, however, especially considering L. lagopus and L. clavatum were once considered the same species. Compare with other clubmosses with cone-like strobili: Spinulum species have stalkless strobili and leaves 8 to 10-ranked, Dendrolycopodium have stalkless strobili and tree-like branching, and Diphasiastrum have stalked strobili but scale-like leaves, and none of these have the hair-like extensions on leaf or scale tips. While several different clubmoss species may grow side by side, hybridization is not common.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Cook County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka, Cook, Lake, and Roseau counties. Other photos courtesy John Thayer.


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