There is more to Clubmoss than meets the eye

At this time of year the mountains can look a bit bleak. Especially in all the stormy weather we have been experiencing recently. If you look closely though there are still a lot of plants that are visible high on the mountains braving the winter storms.

Clubmoss is one such plant and it’s amazing to think that these little plants have been around for nearly 400 million years. 350 million years ago clubmoss was the dominant plant species and grew to an impressive 30m tall. It is from this clubmoss that we get the majority of the organic matter that now forms coal.

Today clubmoss has retreated upwards and grows in acidic soils in upland areas. Its succulent leaves help it to survive being dried out by the windy weather. We commonly see three types of clubmoss here in Snowdonia: Fir clubmoss, Alpine clubmoss and Stag’s horn clubmoss.

Clubmoss reproduces by releasing spores into the air. In large enough concentrations these spores are highly flammable. The powder that is made from the dry spores of clubmoss is called lycopodium. Lycopodium was historically used in fireworks, explosives, as a pill covering, as an ice cream stabiliser and in fingerprint powders. These days lycopodium powder is used to create flashes that are impressive but easy to contain such as in magic shows and theatrical performances.

A great source of information on plants in Snowdonia is Mike Raine’s book Nature of Snowdonia. Mike has a great facebook page called Notes from the hill.