Huperzia species

Fir Clubmosses

Shining Clubmoss, Photo Courtesy USDA Plants Database
Shining Clubmoss
Photo Courtesy USDA Plants Database

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Huperzia, for Johann Peter Huperz (d. 1816) a German fern horticulturist
  • Fir Clubmoss, from the resemblance of its needle-like leaves to those of the Firs (Abies spp.)
  • Other common names include Gemma Fir-moss


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Lycopodiophyta, the Clubmosses
      • Class Lycopodiopsida, the Clubmosses
        • Order Lycopodiales, the Clubmosses
          • Family Lycopodiaceae, the Clubmosses
            • Genus Huperzia, the Fir Clubmosses
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 202451
  • Also known as Lycopodium
  • North Country Species
  • Seven species in North America.
  • Hybrids between North American species extremely common, recognizable as hybrids (under a microscope) by abortive spores that vary greatly in size and shape. Hybrids are intermediate in characteristics between the parents.
  • While hybrids are sterile (not producing viable spores) they persist in the environment through vegetative reproduction by means of bulblets (gemmae).


  • A genus of small clubmosses growing in clusters rather than running.
  • Roots produced in tip of shoot, growing downward in cortex to emerge at soil level.
  • Horizontal stems absent.
  • Shoots round in cross section, 2-16 mm in diameter, including leaves.
  • Leaves small, pointed, and evergreen, not in distinct ranks; petioles absent. Juvenile (lower) leaves mostly larger than mature (upper) leaves. Reproductive bulblets form in upper leaves.
  • Sporangia kidney-shaped, borne individually at base of unmodified or reduced leaf.
  • Spores pitted to shallowly grooved, sides concave at equator.
  • Gametophytes nonphotosynthetic, mycorrhizal, subterranean, unbranched, linear to elliptic in outline.


  • Identifiable as Huperzia by
    • absence of horizontal stems
    • clustered upright shoots; not tree-like
    • absence of spore-bearing cones.
  • Distinguishing among species difficult, due to subtle differences among the basic species and their propensity to form vegetatively reproducing hybrids.
  • Field Marks
    • leaf shape
    • leaf edge - smooth or toothed
  • Club Moss Identification for Amateurs

    1. Our North Country clubmosses are divided into four genera, based upon their leaves and cones.
      • Clubmosses with flat, scale-like leaves belong to the genus Diphasiastrum, the so-called Ground Cedars, represented by three species in the North Country. All other clubmosses in our area have pointed leaves and a bristly appearance.
      • Clubmosses without cones belong to this genus, Huperzia, represented by four species in the North Country, only two at all common.
      • A clubmoss with a cone which is merely a somewhat broader extension of the shoot belongs to the genus Lycopodiella, represented by a single species in the North Country.
      • Clubmosses with distinct cones and bristly leaves belong to the genus Lycopodium, the so-called Ground Pines, represented by six species in the North Country.
    2. If you have a Huperzia speciman, examine the leaves. If the leaves are about 3/8" long with slightly toothed edges, you have Shining Clubmoss (Huperzia lucidula) the most common of our Boundary Waters Huperzia. Confirm by
      • bright green color
      • stems about 6" long
    3. If the leaves are only about 1/8" long, with smooth, untoothed edges, you probably have Fir Clubmoss (Huperzia selago). Beware, however, the two local species once lumped in with that species, Rock Clubmoss (Huperzia porophila) and Appalachian Clubmoss (Huperzia appalachiana).
      • Rock Clubmoss is well north of its typical range here, but has been identified in Lake County.
      • Appalachian Clubmoss is not likely to be found very far inland from Lake Superior. Look for the absence of annual constrictions.
      • One of the common and confusing Huperzia hybrids, Huperzia appalachiana x selago has also been identified in northeastern Minnesota.
    4. If the leaves are between 1/8" and 3/8" and intermediate in form, they may be one of two other common hybrids, also confirmed in northeastern Minnesota - Huperzia appalachiana x lucidula and Huperzia x buttersii (selago x lucidula).
    5. Unless you're into counting tiny stomata and measuring spore diameter, this is about as far as you can go with any confidence.


  • Circumboreal; temperate, alpine, and arctic regions
  • Also tropical Asian mountains.







  • By spore
  • Huperzia species also reproduce by bulblets (gemma) produced at base of upper leaves which, when mature, fall to ground and sprout to form new plants.


  • Very difficult.


  • Clubmosses can make attractive ground covers, but they do not transplant well, and transplantation is not recommended.



Valley Internet Company
Return to Home Page
Send Feedback to Webmaster

Last Updated on 26 February, 2004