Huperzia nummulariifolia (Blume) Chambers, Jermy & Crabbe
Huperzia nummulariifolia (Blume) Chambers, Jermy & Crabbe
Basionym: Lycopodium nummularifolium Blume
Non-scientific names found on the internet:
Huperzia nummularifolius (non-scientific)
Lycopodium nummularifolia (non-scientific)
Common names: Tassel Fern, Club Moss, Fir Moss
The species Huperzia nummulariifolia can be extremely confusing if you are attempting to find scientific facts or are doing casual research. Published In Acta Botanica Yunnanica 3 in1981, Huperzia nummulariifolia is commonly known, even by the pteridologists who study these species, by other names. But within professional pteridologist's circles it is now known and accepted as Huperzia nummulariifolia. The species is found on the peninsula of Malaysia ( Kedah, Peneng Island, Kelantan, Pahn, Johor), Java, Sumatra, and in Thailand. Plants within the genus Huperzia have been used by Chinese medicine makers to make a tea that has been used for hundreds of years as a diuretic, purportedly for blood loss and other traditional medicinal purposes. Traditional Chinese believe these plants cause the loss of excess body fluids and supposedly people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease claim a significant return of memory after taking a derivative of certain species twice a day for weeks at a time. Whether the "medicine" truly works is not a known scientific fact. Herbalist medicines are even available for sale inside the United States created from some species within the genera .
When I began to research this species I was almost literally running in circles. At first I found the name as Huperzia nummulariifolia but then other sources indicated the species name to be Phlegmariurus nummularifolius, Huperzia nummularifolius and Lycopodium nummularifolia Both of later are not scientifically published names. Garden websites were even worse and more than once listed names that do not exist in science. Finally, when I checked the International Plant names Index (IPNI, a service of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London) that source indicated the basionym (base name) to be Lycopodium nummularifolium Blume. As of early June, 2008, TROPICOS (a service of the Missouri Botanical Garden) still did not have the species name Huperzia nummulariifolia listed. When I attempted to confirm the correct name with pteridologist Dr. Robbin C. Moran of the New York Botanical Garden he indicated the name used by most pteridologists to be correctly Huperzia nummulariifolia (Blume) Chambers, Jermy & Crabbe. It would be an understatement to say the discrepancies found were confusing.
So I again asked Dr. Moran for additional information and received this response, "You are correct: the basionym is Lycopodium nummulariifolium Blume. I suggest using Huperzia because that is being done by most pteridologists these days. Huperzia differs from the other Lycopodium segregates most conspicuously by its equally forked branches." As a result, it is now established within botanical science the basionym is correctly Lycopodium nummulariifolium but the correct scientific species name is Huperzia nummulariifolia. Lycopodium nummulariifolium was simply the first published name for the species, but current research has reclassified the plant to another genus which is more accurate due to physical characteristics.
Within the rules of botany, the first name correctly published as to the correct genus becomes the true basionym or base name. All other published names become synonyms or simply the same species with another name. The more recent trend within science has been to define Lycopodium more narrowly and to reclassify the species into several genera including Huperzia which is a member of the Huperziaceae.
Possibly a more in-depth explanation is necessary to explain the currently accepted species' name when compared to the originally published basionym. Plant expert Leland Miyano explains, "I agree that the basionym of Huperzia nummulariifolia is Lycopodium nummulariifolium. What I have been attempting to explain is that the genus often changes with new revisions. If you go to the IPNI website now, it recognizes Huperzia nummulariifolia as the current name. The basionym is only the first officially accepted name that was published....and often the genera changes on the basionyms."
Commonly found on the internet as both a Huperzia and a Phlegmariurus species in addition to several fictitious names, plants in these genera are Lycophytic plants. They are often known as Fir mosses or Fir club mosses. The trend among pteridologists in recent years has been to treat these plant species in a separate genera based on specific plant characteristics. But until the world of the internet catches up to science, the confusion over the name of this species is likely to continue. I am left to use only the currently accepted scientific name which is Huperzia nummulariifolia.
The common name "fir moss" is used for tropical as well as some of the temperate species. The term refers to their resemblance to branches of a fir tree which is a conifer. In Australia these epiphytic (tree dwelling) species are known as the tassel ferns. However, scientifically they are not ferns. An epiphyte (ep-a-FIT) is simply a plant which grows attached to another plant, normally a rain forest tree in the case of the species Huperzia nummulariifolia.
Fir mosses grow in clusters rather than running on the ground which sometimes adds to the confusion within the species placement. The roots are produced in the tips of the shoots growing downward and sometimes emerge at soil level. Current botanical work now prefers to split Huperzia into two genera: Huperzia and Phlegmariurus. Since Huperzia nummulariifolia is a tropical to subtropical species of epiphytes other pteridologists appear to have some difficulty with the placement Thus the placement in some forums in the genus Phlegmariurus.
Scientists believe plants within the broader group Lycopodiopsida were a dominant group during the Carboniferous Period. The Carboniferous Period is thought to have occurred some 354 to 290 million years ago during the Palaeozoic Era. The term comes from England and applies to the deposits of coal which occur in that region. Those deposits occur throughout portions of Europe and Asia as well as well as the Midwestern and eastern regions of North America. "Carboniferous" is used to differentiate between the regions that bear coal and the zones of eastern North America separated by the Mississippi River. During that period this and other club mosses were considered capable of reaching the size of a tree. As a group, they are thought to have been one source of the deposits of coal found around the world.
Although Lycopodiaceae do in fact somewhat resemble mosses, they are considered to be substantially more advanced due to a vascular form. Simply, the term "vascular" refers to the highly specialized fluid conducting tissues found within species such as Huperzia nummulariifolia. Within tropical rain forests the club mosses are found in moist regions both in tropical and subtropical forests. However, the species within this class are still often loosely grouped as fern allies even though they are not ferns.
Dr. Moran recommends two books for those interested in species in these as well as fern genera: "One is about fern cultivation: Fern Grower’s Manual (with first author Barabara Joe Hoshizaki) and the other is A Natural History of Ferns (Timber Press, 2004). The latter is a popular non-technical) book about ferns and lycophytes. It is not an identification guide, but tells about what ferns are doing in nature. Many of the things you mention on your web page for H. phlegmaria are also discussed in that book."
The species Huperzia nummulariifolia is so intricately designed by nature it actually "appears" to be an intertwined "rope" but close examination of close-up photographs reveals it is simply intricate scale like plates. The species reproduces by the production of spores and those are in kidney shaped sporagia found individually on the stem at the bases of unmodified leaves. The species has many variations which often cause it to be difficult to come to an immediate species determination. Natural variation is common within many plant species although it is poorly understood by the majority of plant collectors. Although the explanation given in this link deals with other genera, the scientific principle of natural variation are one and the same. You may find you can better understand variation after reading this link: Go here.
Our specimen grows as an epiphyte hanging from our epiphytic tree at the entrance to our ExoticRainforest tropical atrium. The specimen was a gift from collector Teri Baber. It is watered daily by an overhead misting system, twice each day. Collectors report the species requires a high nitrogen fertilizer to prosper. The species is sometimes available for sale but often with the wrong scientific name and can be quite costly.
On June 2, 2008 I requested a verification of the identification of the species shown on this page from Dr, Robbin C. Moran, Ph.D., Curator of Ferns at The New York Botanical Garden. He verified the plant in our photos to be Huperzia nummulariifolia (Blume) Chambers, Jermy & Crabbe. My sincere appreciation to Dr. Moran as well as Leland Miyano for their assistance in gathering the information found on this page.