A not so typical moss
A quiet walk afield can be tremendously therapeutic. It really doesn’t matter whether you are in the woods, on the beach, on the prairie, or in the desert; the solitude combined with the quiet and an openness to the world around you can change your whole outlook on life (even if for a few precious minutes at a time). It is during these times, once you’ve cleared the clutter of your mind for a while, you can enjoy the world as it is, in minute detail.
Years ago I had such an episode near my childhood home in West Virginia. I don’t remember what the teenager issue of the day may have been, but to this day I remember the particular detail that resonated in my mind. As I walked down a gravel road on a cold day after a wet snow, I was struck by a patch of deep green crowsfoot club moss standing out against the crusty snow on the high-side bank under an open stand of Virginia pine. Stunning.
Who would have imagined the effect that a lowly groundcover could have? It was the liveliest thing in the woods that day…even the birds were hunkered down. I understood immediately why my parents’ generation, and those before, coveted these stands for Christmas greenery; and maybe why these stands should be left alone. This plant quickly became one of my favorites.
Lycopodium digitatum is the botanical name given to crowsfoot club moss, also known as fan club moss and ground cedar. Club mosses are considered fern “allies” meaning that they are botanically similar, though very much distinct. Like ferns club mosses are ancient, arising in the era before flowers and seeds had evolved. They reproduce by producing spores, or more commonly, through vegetative reproduction. Often, club mosses colonize patches of ground via underground stems similar to vines, although most club mosses stay on the ground.
Crowsfoot club moss is an evergreen perennial native to the eastern half of North America. Its range is in the higher Appalachian mountains northward, and its range ends in northern Georgia and Alabama. It has also been found from the east and south shores of Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico; and from the Atlantic coast to the states on the west bank of the Mississippi River. It is found in natural areas that are shaded, often sloped and moist (humid but no wet soil).
An unsual ground cover
It has been a plan of mine for the past few years to start a patch of crowsfoot in a shaded area at the back of my yard. We back up to a wood lot that has grown up in Chinese privet, forsythia, honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, mondo grass and poison ivy…a perfect spot, after a little preparation. I envision a woodland garden with crowsfoot and wintergreen along the pathway, a few ferns and maybe some mountain laurel. The challenge has been finding a nursery that sells crowsfoot club moss. My alternative solution is to take cuttings from a friends naturally grown patch and propogate them. Along with all of the other plans, we’ll see how it all pans out.
What inspires your gardening habit?
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8 thoughts on “Groundcedar of the Appalachian: Crowsfoot Club Moss”
I just bought a large piece of land in Roane Co. and this stuff is covering the ground almost everywhere! Thanks for posting this informative info! I thought this stuff was beautiful and am glad to find I’m not alone.
Can you eat this?
I recently discovered a 30’ X 30’ patch of running cedar. I want to protect and nurture the plants since I know they are endangered. I have not disturbed the area in anyway, but I would like to ask if there is anything extra I could do to help these beautiful plants? BUT DO NO HARM!
Debbie, It’s a year and a half since your post on Running Ground Cedar. I just saw some in a TN state park and want some for a spot in our yard. How did your experiment with it go? I may have found one nursery that propagates it and can probably find a place to legally dig some up. I thought if I dug enough of its own dirt up with it, that might help it be happy in my yard. Cary, Knoxville
Cary, thanks for checking out our blog! Our experiments with ground cedar have had mixed-good results. The most successful transplant method has been digging up clumps with lots of their native soil and moving them where we want them. Taking bare root segments works too, if you keep them moist and get them in the ground quickly, but they establish much more slowly than those with their soil. We have seen a few nurseries that sell it, but have not purchased due to the expansive (and spreading) patches growing on a family-owned plot of woods. It seems not to be picky about location as well as it gets mid- and late-day shade and is well drained. Good luck with your project!
Tennessee wholesale nursery sells this and has a year guarantee that their stuff will grow. I’m going to give it a try!
Diphasiastrum digitatum is a wonderful plant but extremely difficult to transplant or propagate. It grows well in deciduous, mixed and coniferous forests alike. It can also grow on drier slopes or wetter areas. It’s very common in the Piedmont of the Carolinas but very under appreciated.
Thanks, Matthew! I used the outdated botanical name, and have had, since writing this piece, several other confirmations that it’s a tough nut to crack as far as cultivation is concerned. I absolutely agree with your sentiment.
Mark (via Debbie’s account)