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Wisconsin Plant of the Week

Lycopodium dendroideum Michx.

Lycopdiaceae (Club-moss Family)

Common Name:

ground-pine, round branched club-moss


This evergreen native club-moss is common in northern woods under hemlock, beech and sugar maple.  It grows in dry sandy soil or in poor acid soil at the edge of bogs. The plant family is primitive and, like the ferns, reproduces by spores rather than by forming flowers and seeds.  

Plants usually form large patches that spread by deep underground rhizomes.  The erect stems resemble miniature pine trees -- they’re leafy, up to 12 inches (30 cm) tall, and have forked branches. The leaves are shiny, pointed and less than 3 mm long.

The stem of all the club-mosses end in an erect club-like structure, or strobilus, of yellowish leaves.  In the axil of each yellow leaf is a sac of spores.  The spores germinate underground and may take 6 to 15 years to develop and mature.

Ground-pine is distinguished from other species of Lycopodium by its stem leaves that spread out at a wide angle from the stem, and by the uniform arrangement of leaves around each branch.

Lycopodium spores burn with a brief, but violent, flash and were used to make fireworks -- try dusting them into a candle flame.  The plants are also used in Christmas decorations and in woodland gardens.  Establishing new plants requires having symbiotic fungi associated with the roots. Growth requires poor soil without much disturbance.

  • Origin of the name: Lycopodium: wolf-foot, lykos, Gr., wolf, podos, Gk., foot; dendroideum: tree-like, dendron, Gk., tree
  • Range:  N. Amer. from the tree line south to WA, IL, VA
  • WI Range:  Statewide except the southeast
  • Common associates: Hemlock, beech, sugar maple
  • Wetland Indicator Status: FAC
  • Coefficient of Conservatism: 7 (WI); 5 (MI); 10 (S&W), an Illinois State Endangered species
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