Prince’s Pine

Lycopodium obscurum or Dendrolycopodium obscurum

The is the last of three New Year’s posts about local varieties of clubmoss.

Prince’s Pine (sometimes called Ground Pine, Princess’s Pine, or Flat-branched tree clubmoss) is an evergreen beauty.  Thanks to branching, it is a tad bushier than Ground Cedar, so each individual plant ends up looking like a tiny hemlock or pine tree. The “leaves” of the plant are best described as scalelike.

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Prince’s Pine

Like the other clubmosses, the reproductive structure of Prince’s Pine is the club-like strobilus. The strobili are borne at the tip of the shoots and branches (see photo) of the plant. Each one will produce a cloud of spores in the fall.

Last November I came across several stands of Prince’s Pine near Pandapas Pond. While trying to take some photos, I noticed that the spores were easily released when I brushed my hand across the fruiting bodies. In the photos below, you can see the dust that was released when I did this. It was an impressive show!

Clubmoss spores were once collected and used as “flash powder” to produce bright light for photographers and magicians. Apparently, a little pinch of “Lycopodium powder” will produce quite a bit of light if ignited. Check out this crazy 2-minute video that demonstrates this and other strange qualities of Lycopodium spores:

Science Dump: Lycopodium powder

Clubmoss populations have been threatened by over-harvesting for Christmas decorations. This practice is not as common today as it once was, but it still goes on. A stand of Prince’s Pine can take years to reach maturity, so it cannot tolerate repeated harvesting.

Learn more about clubmosses in Virginia here.

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