Taxonomy of Clubmosses in Lycophyaceae

By Marion Lobstein

In both American Indian and European cultures, uses of clubmosses date back to ancient times. Early European botanists and taxonomists, such as John Ray in the 1600s and Carlus Linnaeus in the 1700s, gave clubmosses the name of Lycopodium.Linnaeus used this genus in his Species Plantarum (1753), but still classified clubmosses with Muscus or true mosses. In the 1762 edition of Flora Virginica, John Clayton and Johann Gronovius continued the convention of placing Lycopodium species under Musci. In 1800, Johann Jakob Bernhardi proposed another genus of Huperzia for clubmosses that did not have separate club-like strobili (structures bearing the sporangia that produce spores) on the leafy stems.

Lycopodiaceae, the family in which clubmosses are now placed, was proposed by Charles Francois Mirbel in 1802. As more has became known about the life cycles of clubmosses and based on more recent work with DNA, other genera have been proposed for clubmosses. The chart below reflects information on the genera included in the Flora of Virginia:

Genus                                   Origin                           Common Name      Named by

Dendrolycopodium Dendro, meaning tree; lycopodium(see below) Tree clubmosses A.Haines 2003
Diphasiastrum Diphasium, a generic name for clubmosses; –astrum, incomplete resemblance Running cedar or pine J. Holub 1975
Huperzia Named in honor of Johann Huperz, a noted German botanist Fir mosses J. Bernhardi 1800
Lycopodiella -iella, meaning diminutive;lycopodium (see below) Bog clubmoss J. Holub 1964
Spinulum Spina, bristly or spiny Bristly clubmoss A. Haines 2003
Lycopodium Lyco-, meaning wolf;podiumfoot/claw Running clubmoss C. Linnaeus 1753

The dichotomous key to genera of clubmosses in the Flora of Virginia uses the vegetative and reproductive structures as well as the growth patterns to sort out these genera. The excellent illustration there will be of use in sorting out the clubmosses in our area. The Flora glossary will help you understand terms used in the keys and genera and species descriptions with which you may not be familiar.

[Photo, Deanna High, taken on Bull Run Mountain, PWC, Va.]