Spinulum annotinum (Stiff Clubmoss)

Plant Info
Also known as: Bristly Clubmoss, Common Interrupted Clubmoss
Family:Lycopodiaceae (Clubmoss)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; moist to dry sandy or rocky soil; deciduous, mixed or conifer forest, peatlands, swamps, barrens
Fruiting season:July - October
Plant height:3 to 12 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC 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 toothed leaves] Leaves are evergreen, whorled or nearly so but spirally arranged with 8 to 10 leaves in a cycle, appearing as 8 to 10 columns when viewed from the side of the stem (8 to 10-ranked), and round in cross-section (like a bottle brush). Leaves are spreading to drooping, ¼ to 1/3 inch (5 to 8 mm) long, to 1.2 mm wide, lance-linear, dark green, often minutely toothed on the tip half and usually with a pale, sharp, spine-like tip.

[photo of branches and annual constriction] 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 that are either unbranched or with 1 or 2 forked branches near the base. 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 are 1 to 3 feet long and the erect shoots up to 12 inches tall.

Spores: Fruit type: spores on stalk

[photo of fresh and old strobili] Spores develop in spike-like or cone-like structures called strobili. Strobili are single at branch tips, ½ to 1½ inches long, and stalkless. Each tiny spore sac is attached to a scale (sporophyll) that is about 1/8 inch (3.5mm) long, generally triangular and tapering to a slender, sharply pointed tip but lacks any 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.


Stiff Clubmoss is a circumpolar species, common in Minnesota's forests north of the Metro area. It is among the species formerly all lumped into Lycopodium (L. annotinum), which many references have now split into several genera and we have followed suit. Distinguishing characteristics of these 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. Stiff Clubmoss is the only Spinulum species known to be in Minnesota; it has stalkless strobili that are single at branch tips, erect shoots are unbranched or few branched, horizontal stems are above ground, leaves are not scale-like (and often minutely toothed), and number 8 to 10 in a spiral cycle. The above ground stems, branching, and toothed leaves that lack a hair-like tip can help identify it even when strobili are not present.

Compare with other clubmosses with cone-like strobili: Lycopodium species have long-stalked strobili and hair-like extensions on leaf tips, Dendrolycopodium have stalkless strobili but tree-like branching, and Diphasiastrum have stalked strobili and scale-like leaves. While several different clubmoss species may grow side by side, hybridization is not common.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Cass, Cook, Itasca and Lake counties. Other photos courtesy John Thayer.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: luciearl - Lake Shore
on: 2018-07-20 04:46:26

Nice patch of this at Fritz Loven Park. I've also seen on my property in Fairview Township, but harder to find after the blowdown of 2015.

Posted by: Teal - Sandstone
on: 2021-03-28 20:48:03

There are a couple pretty patches of these in Banning State Park, along the Quarry Loop Trail that follows the Kettle River. Vivid green against the muted colors of early spring.

Posted by: Barb Spears - Grand Rapids, MN
on: 2024-02-10 21:27:44

Fun to see this bright green clubmoss covering the lightly snow-covered ground at the Sax Zim Bog (north central Minnesota) in February. Quite the juxtaposition!

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