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Lycopodiaceae (Clubmosses)
Spinulum annotinum
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Lycophytes
Class: Lycopodiopsida
Order: Lycopodiales
Family: Lycopodiaceae
P.Beauv. ex Mirb. 1802[1]

See text

The Lycopodiaceae (class Lycopodiopsida, order Lycopodiales) are an old family of vascular plants, including all of the core clubmosses and firmosses, comprising 16 accepted genera[2] and about 400 known species.[3] This family originated about 380 million years ago in the early Devonian, though the diversity within the family has been much more recent.[4] "Wolf foot" is another common name for this family due to the resemblance of either the roots or branch tips to a wolf's paw.[5]


Members of Lycopodiaceae are not spermatophytes and so do not produce seeds. Instead they produce spores, which are oily and flammable, and are the most economically important aspects of these plants. The spores are of one size (i.e. the plants are isosporous) and are borne on a specialized structure at the apex of a shoot called a strobilus (plural: strobili), which resembles a tiny battle club, from which the common name derives. Members of the family share the common feature of having a microphyll, which is a "small leaf with a single vein, and not associated with a leaf gap in the central vascular system."[4] In Lycopodiaceae, the microphylls often densely cover the stem in a linear, scale-like, or appressed fashion to the stem, and the leaves are either opposite or spirally arranged. The club mosses commonly grow to be 5–20 cm tall.[4] The gametophytes in most species are non-photosynthetic and myco-heterotrophic, but the subfamily Lycopodielloideae and a few species in the subfamily Huperzioideae have gametophytes with an upper green and photosynthetic part, and a colorless lower part in contact with fungal hyphae.[6][7]


The family Lycopodiaceae is considered to be basal within the Lycopodiopsida (lycophytes). One hypothesis for the evolutionary relationships involved is shown in the cladogram below.[2]



Within the family, there is support for three subgroups. In 2016, Field et al. proposed that the primary division is between Lycopodielloideae plus Lycopodioideae and the Huperzioideae (names sensu PPG I).[8]


Lycopodielloideae (Lycopodiella s.l.)

Lycopodioideae (Lycopodium s.l.)

Huperzioideae (Huperzia s.l.)

There are about 400 known species in the family Lycopodiaceae.[3] Sources differ in how they group these into genera. Field et al. (2016) say "Most Lycopodiaceae species have been re-classified into different genera several times, leading to uncertainty about their most appropriate generic identification."[8] In the PPG I system, the family has 16 accepted genera, grouped into three subfamilies, Lycopodielloideae, Lycopodioideae and Huperzioideae, based in part on molecular phylogenetic studies. The Huperzioideae differ in producing spores in small lateral structures in the leaf axils,[8] and it has been suggested that they be recognized as a separate family.[citation needed] Other sources use fewer genera; for example, the three genera placed in the subfamily Huperzioideae in PPG I, Huperzia, Phlegmariurus and Phylloglossum, have also all been treated within a broadly defined Huperzia.[8]

The species within this family generally have chromosome counts of n=34. A notable exception are the species in Diphasiastrum, which have counts of n=23.[citation needed]


As of January 2023, the Checklist of Ferns and Lycophytes of the World recognized the following genera as members of Lycopodiaceae.[9] All of these are recognized by the Pteridophyte Phylogeny Group classification of 2016 (PPG I), except for the genus Brownseya, described in 2021.[2] Other classifications circumscribe the genera in the family more broadly, recognizing the subfamilies Lycopodielloideae, Lycopodioideae, and Huperzioideae as the genera Lycopodiella, Lycopodium, and Huperzia.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The members of Lycopodiaceae are terrestrial or epiphytic in habit and are most prevalent in tropical mountain and alpine environments.[4] Though Lycopodiaceae are most abundant in these regions, they are cosmopolitan, excluding arid environments.[10]


Lycopodiaceae (homosporous lycophytes) split off from the branch leading to Selaginella and Isoetes (heterosporous lycophytes) about ~400 million years ago, during the early Devonian.[11] Spores indicate that the crown group of Lycopodiaceae had emerged by the Triassic-Jurassic boundary, around 200 million years ago,[12] with a member of the crown group of Lycopodioideae known from the Early Cretaceous of China.[13]


  • The running clubmosses (Diphasiastrum) have long been used as greenery for Christmas decoration.
  • The spores have long been used as a flash powder. See Lycopodium powder.
  • The spores have been used by violin makers for centuries as a pore filler.
  • In Cornwall, club mosses gathered during certain lunar phases were historically used as a remedy for eye disease.


  1. ^ James L. Reveal, Indices Nominum Supragenericorum Plantarum Vascularium
  2. ^ a b c PPG, I (2016). "A community-derived classification for extant lycophytes and ferns". Journal of Systematics and Evolution. 54 (6): 563–603. doi:10.1111/jse.12229. S2CID 39980610.
  3. ^ a b Christenhusz, M. J. M. & Byng, J. W. (2016). "The number of known plants species in the world and its annual increase". Phytotaxa. 261 (3). Magnolia Press: 201–217. doi:10.11646/phytotaxa.261.3.1.
  4. ^ a b c d Judd; et al. (2015). Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.
  5. ^ "Lycopodiaceae". Retrieved 2017-12-20.
  6. ^ Mycoheterotrophy: The Biology of Plants Living on Fungi
  7. ^ Phylogeny of Phlegmariurus (Lycopodiaceae) focusing on Brazilian endemic species
  8. ^ a b c d Field; et al. (January 2016). "Molecular Phylogenetics and the Morphology of the Lycopodiaceae Subfamily Huperzioideae Supports Three Genera: Huperzia, Phlegmariurus and Phylloglossum". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 94, Part B (Pt B): 635–57. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2015.09.024. PMID 26493224.
  9. ^ Hassler, Michael (19 January 2023), "Lycopodiaceae", World Ferns. Synonymic Checklist and Distribution of Ferns and Lycophytes of the World, 14.7, retrieved 2023-01-22
  10. ^ Øllgaard, B. (1990). "Lycopodiaceae". In Pteridophytes and Gymnosperms: 31–39. doi:10.1007/978-3-662-02604-5_10. ISBN 978-3-642-08080-7.
  11. ^ Extraordinary preservation of gene collinearity over three hundred million years revealed in homosporous lycophytes
  12. ^ Wikström, Niklas; Larsén, Eva; Khodabandeh, Anbar; Rydin, Catarina (January 2023). "No phylogenomic support for a Cenozoic origin of the "living fossil" Isoetes". American Journal of Botany. 110 (1). doi:10.1002/ajb2.16108. ISSN 0002-9122. PMC 10108322. PMID 36401556.
  13. ^ Herrera, Fabiany; Testo, Weston L.; Field, Ashley R.; Clark, Elizabeth G.; Herendeen, Patrick S.; Crane, Peter R.; Shi, Gongle (March 2022). "A permineralized Early Cretaceous lycopsid from China and the evolution of crown clubmosses". New Phytologist. 233 (5): 2310–2322. doi:10.1111/nph.17874. ISSN 0028-646X. PMID 34981832. S2CID 245670357.

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