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Lycopodium clavatum

Clubmoss & Quillwort Family [Lycopodiaceae]

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5th Aug 2011, Lingmoor Fell, Little Langdale, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Those parts of the stem which creeps along the ground are up to a metre long and are about 6mm across.

5th Aug 2011, Lingmoor Fell, Little Langdale, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Horizontal stems barely attain 3 inches in height but are up to 1m in length. Stems much branched, the branches branched too. At intervals they extend roots down into the ground.

5th Aug 2011, Lingmoor Fell, Little Langdale, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
The leaves are 3 to 7mm long. Those of horizontal stems are very narrow-triangular and all around the stem in tight spirals.

5th Aug 2011, Lingmoor Fell, Little Langdale, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Each leaf of the horizontal stems ends in a long white hair, most noticeable at the end of a branch which is white with a tuft of crooked 'hairs'.

5th Aug 2011, Lingmoor Fell, Little Langdale, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
These kind of leaves are 3 to 5mm long with a point at the apex.

5th Aug 2011, Lingmoor Fell, Little Langdale, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
The leaves of Clubmosses do not have veins inside along which water can be distributed as those of ordinary plants and flowers. So, the water has to be transmitted along the leaf by transmission from cell to cell, which put a restraint on the length that the leaf can attain. The furthest parts to which water cannot be transmitted in sufficient quantity presumably become the frizzled sinuous white filaments 2 to 4mm long at the end of each leaf.

The same is true for the leaves of Quillwort Isoete species - which are in the same family as are Clubmosses - namely Lycopodiaceae. Except that in Quillworts the leaf length can reach up to 40cm! - even though it is constrained by the same lack of water-transporting veins.

14th June 2013, Cwm Idwal, under Glyder Fawr, N. Wales
The following specimens are near Devil's Kitchen (aka Twl Du - because three is too many...).
The fertile stems grow upwards and are much shorter, up to an absolute maximum of just 20cm high, often much shorter at 2,5 to 7cm high, and are a paler-green.

14th June 2013, Cwm Idwal, under Glyder Fawr, N. Wales
Younger fertile stems with leaves near the top which are yet to elongate.

14th June 2013, Cwm Idwal, under Glyder Fawr, N. Wales
These sporangium-bearing stems have differing leaves (paler-green ovate to broad-ovate) than those on the horizontal stems, although they do emerge from those stems. They also bear between 1 and 3 cones each, which are between 20 to 50mm long on long stalks.

14th June 2013, Cwm Idwal, under Glyder Fawr, N. Wales
The leaves on sporangia bearing stems differ in shape and size to thos on the horizontal sections of the stem: they are scale-like, ovate to broady-ovate with a long white point at the top which has dry and thin but toothed edges. The spore cones are yellowish-green, 2 to 5cm long, and 5mm broad.

14th June 2013, Cwm Idwal, under Glyder Fawr, N. Wales
The leaves on normal parts of the stem are 3 to 5mm long, either erect or upwards at a 45°angle, linear-lanceolate and have a longish thin point 2 to 4mm long at the end.

14th June 2013, Cwm Idwal, under Glyder Fawr, N. Wales
This is a horizontal stem with many leaves lying almost parallel to the stem. To your Author the leaves look like they are in whorls rather than the spirals reported elsewhere... Perhaps they grow differentially?

Some similarities to : Interrupted Clubmoss but that has short intermittent narrowings down to bare stem where the narrow leaflets do not grow. Fir Clubmoss grows in similar places on mountains, but lacks the long thin white hairs on the end of each leaf, and is also much longer, sprawling up to a metre in length.

There are only three Clubmosses belonging to the Lycopodium Genus in the UK, Interrupted Clubmoss (Lycopodium annotinum) which is found extensively in the northern part of Scotland Inverness northwards, Arctic Stag's-horn Clubmoss (Lycopodium lagopus) which is found in only one hectad in Scotland, and this one which is found in the heaths, moors and mountains of Endland, Wales and Scotland, although may have all but disappeared from Ireland with only one hectad remaining in the decade 2000 - 2009.

But there are Clubmosses belonging to other Genera, namely Selaginella, Diphasiastrum, and Huperzia (the latter belonging to a differing family, Huperziaceae.

Stag's-horn Clubmoss (aka Common Clubmoss in the USA) is toxic. The spores of this clubmoss are not known to be toxic, but have in the past been used as a dusting agent on latex condoms where asthma of a few workers employed to deploy the dust has been reported.

There are about 200 alkaloids within Stag's-horn Clubmoss belonging to about 20 skeletal types. Together they amount to 0.2% by mass, by far the most abundant at 84.4% (of the solvent extraction) is Lycopodine which is poisonous, followed to a much lesser extent by Clavatine which is toxic (but may just be a name for the tincture obtained from the plant rather than a specific molecule in its own right, since your Author has failed to find any structural formula for this), and Lycovatine A. Those alkaloids with the Lycopodine skeleton are by far the largest group, the next most abundant skeletal types being the Lycodine type, followed by the Annotine skeletal group and finally the Selagine skeletal group. Those last four are the main skeletal types, but there are another 16. Some of the rest of these skeletal forms can be found on the page for Fir Clubmoss.

It also contains polyphenolic acids such as Dihydrocaffeic Acid and flavonoids such as Apigenin.

The cones are long-stalked (apart from the specimens in the far North of the UK where they are un-stalked) and at the top part of forked growths. The spores are ripe July to August.

Habitat is heaths, moors and mountains on acid or alkaline soils mostly in grassy places. It formerly grew throughout the UK, but is now absent from most lowlands. It is Native.

The toxic spores were once collected as a fine yellow powder called 'Lycopodium' powder and used in classroom science demonstrations, where sound vibrations on brass plates are made visible or the presence of electrostatic charges easily betrayed. They are highly inflammable and were once used in fireworks where they burn explosively emitting sparks and in photographic flash powders. Their lightness and propensity to stick to any slight electrical charge or oil also made it useful as a fingerprint powder. The spores have also been used to treat skin disorders and as a tonic in traditional Chinese medicine.

The stems have been used in matting, and to yield a mordant for dying. The extract of the plant also been used herbally to for nervous conditions, bronchitis, pneumonia, and almost anything, but more recent investigations reveal that the extracts show anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, hepatoprotective and anti-cancer properties, with Lycopodine being the main alkaloid. Collectively, the alkaloids within Clubmosses are a moderately hazardous neurotoxin, causing vomiting, nausea, dizziness, staggering and coma. It can be lethal.


Many mosses belonging to the Lycopodium, Huperzia and Phyloglossum Genus [all three belonging to the Lycopodiaceae Family] contain highly toxic quinolizidine alkaloids such as Lycopodine, annotidine aka Annotinine, Huperzine A and Selagine. Huperzine A and selagine have similar structures and are found in a wide variety of Clubmosses. There exist many other variations on this molecule.


Clavatine, (aka Claviformine, Expansine, Leucopine, Mycoine, Penicidine, and Tercine but now known only as Patuline) does not contain nitrogen and is therefore not an alkaloid. It is however, a lactone. It was first found in numerous species of Aspergillus and Penicillium moulds, especially Penicillium Expansum, Penicillium Claviform and Aspergillus Clavatus. It has more recently been found in Penicillium Patulum, hence the new name Patuline, all previous names being now dis-used. It is a mycotoxin.

There seems to be confusing evidence as to whether the Clavatine that is reported to be found in Stag's-horn Clubmoss, which co-incidentally?? has the scientific name of Lycopodium clavatum is identical to the Clavatine to be found in fungal moulds. The alkaloid 'Clavatine' in relation to Clubmosses crops up time and time again on the internet, but no structural formulae is ever forthcoming. It seems more likely that 'Clavatine' is the common name of the extract from Stagshorn Clubmoss and therefore not a single compound at all but rather the old name for a mixture of them. Thus the 'Clavatine' found within fungal moulds and depicted here is not a component of Clubmosses. This confusion has now been halted by a change of name of the fungal compound from Clavatine to that of Patuline.

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Lycopodium clavatum

Clubmoss & Quillwort Family [Lycopodiaceae]

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