Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Common Running-cedar

     Diphasiastrum digitatum (formerly known as Lycopodium digitatum or L. flabelliforme) goes by a variety of common names: Common Running-pine, Common Running-cedar, Fan Clubmoss, and Crowsfoot. This evergreen clubmoss creeps along the forest floor in small colonies. The main stem is actually underground, sending up shoots that look like miniature pine trees or cedars. It is not a flowering plant, reproducing instead through strobili that stick up above the shoots and send out spores. It is now not as common as it used to be in some parts of its range due to forest destruction and over collection for Christmas greens and wreaths. These make for potentially dangerous holiday decorations though, since the spores are highly flammable, even once being used for flash powder, fireworks, and explosive magic tricks.
     Other spore uses have included fingerprint powder, ice cream stabilizer, pill coatings, and even powder for condoms. These plants are difficult to transplant and should be left alone. If certain fungi are not present in the soil, these clubmosses will die. These plants are also usually not eaten by mammalian predators unless in desperation as they are protected by toxic alkaloids.
     I enjoy finding these out in the woods, like a lilliputian pine forest under the real forest, and I occasionally tap them with my feet to see if I can get a cloud of spores to explode for my amusement. Maybe in the 20 years or so it takes for these to grow into this clubmoss form, these spores can be the beginning of another miniature forest of Running Cedar somewhere else.

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