Lycopodiella cernua (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Lycopodiella cernua (L.) Pic. Serm.

Protologue: Webbia 23: 166 (1968).
Family: Lycopodiaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 312 (tetraploid)


Lycopodium cernuum L. (1753), Lepidotis cernua (L.) P. Beauv. (1805), Palhinhaea cernua (L.) Vasc. & Franco (1967).

Vernacular names

  • Staghorn clubmoss, monkey's paws (En), nodding clubmoss (Am)
  • Indonesia: paku kawat (Sundanese), pakis kawat (Javanese), singingiri (Siberut)
  • Malaysia: paku serani, rumput serani, rumput kenarus (Peninsular)
  • Philippines: lamong-babae (Tagalog), kolokolud (Igorot), samong-babai (Bikol)
  • Laos: kout ngong (Vientiane), kout khi khép (Samneua)
  • Thailand: kuut khon (northern), rang kai (peninsular), slap (south-eastern).

Origin and geographic distribution

L. cernua is found throughout the tropics and subtropics, extending in Asia to Japan and New Zealand. It occurs throughout South-East Asia (except in the driest regions) where it is the most common club moss.


L. cernua is widely used as an ornamental, both indoors and outdoors. In South-East Asia dried or fresh L. cernua is also applied in floral decoration, to make wreaths and baskets. It has been tried in Malaysia as a cover crop in rubber plantations, especially on degraded soils. In Indonesia and Colombia it is used to stuff cushions as a kapok substitute. In Micronesia it is applied as a cockroach repellent. In tropical Asia and America it has several applications in traditional medicine. In Indonesia and Malaysia a decoction of L. cernua is used externally as a lotion to treat beri-beri, coughs, fever and asthma, and, emulgated in vinegar or lemon juice, in embrocations to treat skin eruptions and abscesses. A traditional Chinese medicine is prepared from L. cernua plants by ultrafiltration. It is administered to treat rheumatism, hepatitis and dysentery, and applied externally to bruises, burns and scalds. In tropical America L. cernua is also used as a diuretic and applied against gout, arthritic swellings, gonorrhoea, leucorrhoea and dysentery. Hawaiians used to boil L. cernua for three hours before bathing rheumatic patients in the decoction. In the Antilles, the abundant spores are applied as dusting-powder for children with irritated skin due to urine contact. In South America the spores are dusted on pills to keep them dry.

Production and international trade

L. cernua is collected from the wild and traded only at local markets. In the Philippines, dyed plant parts are sold as decoration especially during the Christmas season.


Phytochemical investigations of L. cernua plants showed the presence of alkaloids such as annotinine, cernuine, huperzine B, lucidioline, lycodoline, lyconnotine, lycopodine and nicotine, the flavonoid apigenin, apigenin-7-glucoside, the triterpene serratenediol and, as in many other Lycopodiaceae , a high concentration of aluminium (up to 12.5% of ash). The ash also contains about 12% SiO2. Tests with rats showed that injection with the traditional Chinese medicine prepared from L. cernua is effective against experimental silicosis, not only as a prophylactic but also when used to treat the disease. Huperzine B has demonstrated anticholinesterase activity and has also been effective in behaviour tests for appraising animal learning and improving memory function in humans.


A terrestrial, variable, common herb with creeping main stem of indefinite length, rooting at long intervals; erect shoots distant, somewhat resembling little pine trees, up to 100 cm tall, basal part simple, distal part with numerous subopposite, highly compound, spreading branches, ultimate branches nodding to pendulous, 5-20 cm long. Leaves arranged spirally, linear-subulate, 2-3(-5) mm × 0.1-0.3 mm, base broadly decurrent, margin entire, apex sharply pointed, pale yellowish or brownish, thick but soft, changing gradually from patent-reflexed and rather distant on the shoot axis to falcately ascending and closely approximate on the ultimate branches. Strobili 1-2, terminal on each short branch, sessile, pendent, cylindrical, ovoid to ellipsoid, 3-15(-25) mm ×1.5-3(-5) mm; sporophylls close, appressed and imbricate, arranged in 10 spirals, ovate to triangular, about 2 mm × 1 mm, base attached to the axis by a short stalk arising a little above the base of the leaf and more or less at right angles to it, margins coarsely and irregularly laciniate, apex acuminate and cuspidate, yellowish or greenish; sporangium subglobose, up to half the length of the sporophyll, concealed by the sporophyll base, opening with very unequal valves. Spores globose, trilete, rugulose.

Growth and development

Spores of L. cernua germinate in a few days and the gametophyte matures quickly, usually in one season and is short-lived. The tuberous gametophyte develops on the surface of the ground, is cylindrical or ovoid with a lobed or branching top, green, very small, 2-3 mm long. The ventral epidermal cells of the gametophyte contain an aseptate fungus. The fungus provides nutrients to a massive absorptive organ, the protocorm, that also derives nutrients partly by photosynthesis. It is a subglobose to cylindrical, parenchymatous body provided with rhizoids and erect, green, leaf-like outgrowths called protophylls. The protocorm becomes separated from the prothallus when the protophylls are formed, thus being an independent intermediate stage between the gametophyte and the sporophyte. It has neither real roots nor vascular tissue. It may persist a long time and develop secondary protocorms. After some time it gives rise to the young sporophyte. L. cernua may produce strobili throughout the year, but may also pass the dry season as buried stem tips while the rest of the plant dies.

Other botanical information

The Lycopodiaceae do not have close affinities to other groups. In older views there was only one genus, Lycopodium L. At present, although there is no general agreement, 3 genera have been separated from Lycopodium , bringing the total to 4 (sometimes, however, splitting goes as far as 12 genera). The genus Lycopodiella Holub comprises about 40 species and occurs in almost all moist temperate and tropical regions of the world. L. cernua has been placed in the genus Palhinhaea Vasc. & Franco on the basis of phytochemical characteristics. However, it is currently accepted that this genus should be treated as a section of Lycopodiella , i.e. sect. Campylostachys (K. Müll.) B. Øllg. At least 40 varieties have been described within L. cernua , most of which are barely distinguishable.


L. cernua is most common on acid soils in tropical and subtropical lowlands. It occurs along forest fringes, in young secondary forest, often in swamp margins, in grassland (including wet grassland), along roadsides and railways, on moist cliff-faces, hillsides and mountain slopes, from sea-level up to 2800 m altitude. Locally it is often abundant, sometimes as a weed (e.g. in sugar cane in Java). In southern Africa it is fire-resistant and not found in areas with less than 600 mm annual rainfall.

Propagation and planting

L. cernua can be propagated by spores and by layering of growing tips.

Diseases and pests

In Hawaii, the fungus Stomatogene lycopodii has caused blotches on the leaves of L. cernua .


L. cernua is harvested from wild populations when needed.

Handling after harvest

Fresh stems and branches of L. cernua are tied up into bundles and brought to the market for sale.

Genetic resources and breeding

L. cernua is probably the most common and abundant club moss, therefore it does not seem to be at risk of genetic erosion. No germplasm collections and breeding programmes are known to exist.


Many aspects of L. cernua are still unknown. Since this club moss is in great demand in horticulture, research on its possible cultivation should receive more attention. More research on its pharmacological activity is also desirable considering the applications in traditional medicine and the interesting properties demonstrated by other medicinal Lycopodiaceae .


  • Duckett, J.G. & Ligrone, R., 1992. A light and electron microscope study of the fungal endophyte in the sporophyte and gametophyte of Lycopodium cernuum with observations on the gametophyte-sporophyte junction. Canadian Journal of Botany 70: 58-72.
  • He, L.Z., Huang, Z.H., Wang, H.R., Tu, D.Y. & Mao, Z.F., 1998. Shenjincao (Palhinhaea cernua) injection for treatment of experimental silicosis of rats. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 50: 351-354.
  • Markham, K.R., Moore, N.A. & Given, D.R., 1983. Phytochemical reappraisal of taxonomic subdivisions of Lycopodium, Pteridophyta, Lycopodiaceae based on flavonoid glycoside distribution. New Zealand Journal of Botany 21: 113-120.
  • Øllgaard, B., 1987. A revised classification of the Lycopodiaceae sensu lato. Opera Botanica 92: 153-178.
  • Tagawa, M. & Iwatsuki, K. (Volume editors), 1979-1989. Pteridophytes. In: Smitinand, T., Larsen, K. (Series editors): Flora of Thailand. Vol. 3. Forest Herbarium, Royal Forest Department, Bangkok, Thailand. pp. 7-13.
  • Xiao-Qiang Ma, Shan-Hao Jiang & Da-Yuan Zhu, 1998. Alkaloid patterns in Huperzia and some related genera of Lycopodiaceae sensu lato occurring in China and their contribution to classification. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 26: 723-728.


N. Wulijarni-Soetjipto & W.P. de Winter