This plant is a perennial evergreen that is typically 3-8" tall. The
stems are light green, glabrous, and sparingly branched; stems are
usually decumbent on the ground at their bases, otherwise they are
ascending to erect. Along the stems, there are dense pseudo-whorls of
sessile leaves. These leaves are slightly ascending above, widely
spreading in the middle, and slightly descending below. The size of
leaves varies with the season, producing annual growth constrictions.
The larger leaves are 6-10 mm. long, while smaller leaves are 4-6 mm.
long. Both kinds of leaves are linear-oblanceolate or linear-oblong in
shape, while their margins are slightly toothed to entire (smooth). The
upper leaf surface is medium to dark green and shiny, while the lower
leaf surface is slightly more pale. Stomata (air-pores) are restricted
to the lower side of leaves (visible with 20x magnification). During
the summer, sporangia (spore-bearing structures) often develop in
the axils of upper leaves. These sporangia are yellowish tan and
reniform (kidney-shaped). Sporangia-bearing leaves differ
little from leaves without sporangia, except the former may be slightly
smaller in size.
The spores are released during the autumn, when they
are distributed by the wind. By the end of summer, there are often
small gemmae (plantlet-buds) at the apices of leafy stems. These gemmae
are arranged in a short pseudowhorl on each leafy stem.
The gemmae are
up to 6 mm. long, 6 mm. across, and green. During the autumn, after the
gemmae become detached from the stems, they are distributed to a
limited extent by wind or water. After contacting moist ground, the
gemmae are able to develop fibrous roots, establishing new clonal
plants. The decumbent stems of mature plants also develop fibrous roots
when they establish contact with moist ground.
plant prefers dappled sunlight to medium shade, moist to dry-mesic
conditions, and an acidic soil that contains some decaying organic
matter. It is typically surrounded by a protective layer of leaf
litter. Development from spores is a very slow process that takes
several years to complete and it requires the presence of appropriate
soil fungi. It is easier to propagate new plants by using the gemmae
(plantlet-buds) of mature plants.
The native Shining Firmoss is
widely scattered in Illinois, where it is rare (see Distribution
Because of its small size and resemblance to some kinds of true moss,
this plant may be overlooked and it could be more common than current
indicate. Habitats include rocky woodlands, wooded hillsides, rocky
wooded canyons, sandstone ledges and boulders, forested bogs, and
shaded ravines. This plant can be found in deciduous woodlands, mixed
woodlands, and coniferous woodlands. It is associated with higher
quality natural areas.
floral-faunal relationships for this plant are unavailable at the
present time. However, the value of this small plant to wildlife
appears to be low. The foliage of plants in the Clubmoss family is
A rocky hillsides at the Portland Arch Nature
Preserve and Shades State Park in west-central Indiana.
Species of the clubmoss family (Lycopodiaceae) derive from some of the
oldest vascular plants on Earth. Tree-size specimens of clubmoss
occurred during the Carboniferous era, forming part of the coal fields
used today as a source of energy. However, modern species of clubmoss
are small plants. Shining Firmoss (Huperzia
) can be easily
confused with a non-vascular moss, however it is quite distinct from
true mosses. It tends to be larger in size than many similar mosses,
and the texture of its foliage is more firm. Another species that is
similar in appearance to Shining Firmoss is Cliff Firmoss (Huperzia porophila
This latter species differs by having leaves that are widest at the
base, leaf margins that are always entire (smooth), and it has stomata
(air pores) on both the upper and lower sides
of its leaves (visible with 20x magnification). This species is
typically found in such rocky habitats as sandstone ledges, mossy
boulders, and shaded rocky ravines. While Shining Firmoss occasionally
occurs in such habitats, it is more common on the forest floor,
surrounded by leaf litter. Another species with a similar appearance,
Rock Spikemoss (Selaginella
differs by having ascending leaves that are widest at their bases,
while the tips of its leaves are needle-like and whitish. Spikemosses
differ from clubmosses by producing two kinds
of spores: larger macrospores (female) and smaller microspores (male).
In contrast, the spores of clubmosses are the same size. An older
scientific name for Shining Firmoss is Lycopodium lucidulum
Another common name of this plant is Shining Clubmoss.