The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 18, 2002


Biodiversity Corner:
Running Pine

I'm having a little mid-winter fling with the clubmosses. What's a fungus lover to do in the winter? Anyway, did you know that these little plants, along with the horsetails, are the only living relatives of the ancient huge clubmoss and horsetail trees that were up to 100 feet tall, grew in swamp forests, and became the coal beds that we still mine today? Fossil remains of these trees indicate that the woody part of the trunk was quite small with the bulk being made up of bark.


Running Pine or Lycopodium complanatum (a.k.a. Christmas Green)

When and where seen: All year round throughout the woods in Carlisle, in the same habitat as Lycopodium obscurum, the Tree Clubmoss. The Running Pine seems to be less abundant than the Tree Clubmoss.

Distinguishing characteristics

The Running Pine is an evergreen about 10 inches tall. The tiny stalkless leaves hug both sides of the stems creating flat, straplike branchlets. The plant has a rather sprawly habit unlike its upstanding friend, the Tree Clubmoss. Its horizontal stem is very near the surface which also helps distinguish it from the Tree Clubmoss and from the Ground Cedar, another clubmoss with straplike branchlets.


Clubmosses propagate both by "running" and by spores. Horizontal stems which run along just below the surface of the ground give rise to new upright stems. The older upright stems die off at a slower rate than the new ones appear, and so the colonies increase. Clubmosses bear spores on "cones" called strobili. The Running Pine strobili stand high above the leaves in clusters like mini-candelabra. By comparison, the strobili of the Tree Clubmoss are stemless, not clustered (although a single plant may have several), and up to twice as long.


Boughton Cobb, A Field Guide to Ferns. (The Gleason Library has a copy of this book.)


2002 The Carlisle Mosquito