Lycopodiella cernua (PROTA)

From PlantUse English
Jump to: navigation, search
Prota logo orange.gif
Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

General importance Fairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Geographic coverage Africa Fairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svg
Geographic coverage World Fairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svg
Medicinal Fairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Timber Fairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Ornamental Fairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg

Lycopodiella cernua (L.) Pic.Serm.

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


  • Lycopodium cernuum L. (1753),
  • Palhinhaea cernua (L.) Vasc. & Franco (1967).

Vernacular names

  • Stag-horn moss, monkey’s paws, nodding club-moss (En).
  • Lycopode ornamental, fougère décorative (Fr).
  • Enxofre vegetal, licopódio brasileiro, palma de São João, pinheirinho do campo (Po).

Origin and geographic distribution

Lycopodiella cernua is found throughout the tropics and subtropics, extending to Japan, the Azores and New Zealand. It occurs throughout continental Africa, Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands, except in the driest regions.


In Rwanda the whole plant is crushed and applied as a dressing to wounds. In DR Congo the plant is used as a flea repellent. In Madagascar a decoction of the plant is used as a tonic and in a mixture with Tristemma mauritianum J.F.Gmel. to treat neuralgia and hypertension. The whole plant is used to prepare a tea that is drunk to treat stomach ulcers. In tropical America and Asia it also has several applications in traditional medicine. In South-East Asia a decoction of the whole plant is used externally as a lotion to treat beri-beri, coughs and asthma, and in embrocations to treat skin eruptions and abscesses. In tropical America it is used as a diuretic, and to treat gout, arthritic swellings, skin irritations, gonorrhoea, leucorrhoea and dysentery. A traditional Chinese medicine is prepared from Lycopodiella cernua plants by ultrafiltration. It is administered to treat rheumatism, hepatitis and dysentery, and applied externally to bruises, burns and scalds. In Micronesia Lycopodiella cernua is used as a cockroach repellent. It is also used to stuff cushions as a kapok substitute. In Gabon the leaves are used to filter palm wine. Lycopodiella cernua is widely grown as an ornamental, both indoors and outdoors. It is also used in floral decoration, for making wreaths and baskets.


Phytochemical investigations of Lycopodiella cernua showed the presence of alkaloids, such as cernuine and lycocernuine, the flavonoids apigenin and apigenin-7-glucoside, the triterpene serratenediol and, as in many other Lycopodiaceae, a high concentration of aluminium (up to 12.5% of ash). Tests with rats showed that injection with a traditional Chinese medicine prepared from Lycopodiella cernua is effective against experimental silicosis, not only as a prophylactic but also to treat the disease.


Terrestrial 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 almost opposite, highly compound, spreading branches, ultimate branches nodding to pendulous. Leaves arranged spirally, linear-subulate, 2–3(–5) mm × 0.1–0.3 mm, base broadly decurrent, apex sharply pointed, margin entire, 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. Cone-like structures producing spores terminal on the branches, sessile, pending, ovoid to ellipsoid, 3–15(–25) mm × 1.5–3(–5) mm; sporophylls ovate to deltoid, c. 2 mm × 1 mm, margins coarsely and irregularly slashed, yellowish or greenish; sporangium globose, opening with very unequal valves, concealed by the sporophyll base. Spores globose, with a 3-pronged scar, slightly wrinkled.

Other botanical information

Lycopodiella cernua has been placed in the genus Palhinhaea 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. At least 40 varieties have been described within Lycopodiella cernua, most of which are hardly distinguishable. Lycopodiella cernua may produce spores throughout the year, but may also spend the dry season as buried stem tips while the rest of the plant dies.


Lycopodiella cernua 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, up to 2400 m altitude. Locally it is abundant, sometimes as a weed. In southern Africa it is not found in areas with less than 600 mm annual rainfall. It is apparently fire resistant.


Lycopodiella cernua can be propagated by layering of growing tips. Harvesting is done from wild populations when the need arises. Fresh stems and branches are tied up into bundles and brought to the market for sale.

Genetic resources

Lycopodiella cernua is probably the world’s most abundant and widespread club-moss, and is therefore not in danger of genetic erosion.


More research on the pharmacological activities of Lycopodiella cernua is desirable, considering its applications in traditional medicine in many parts of the world and the fact that other species of Lycopodiaceae have medicinal uses. Since this club-moss is in great demand in floriculture, research on its cultivation warrants more attention.

Major references

  • Burkill, H.M., 2000. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 5, Families S–Z, Addenda. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 686 pp.
  • 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(3): 351–354.
  • Jacobsen, W.G.B., 1983. The ferns and fern allies of southern Africa. Butterworth Publishers, Durban/Pretoria, South Africa. 542 pp.
  • Ma, X. & Gang, D.R., 2004. The Lycopodium alkaloids. Natural Product Reports 21(6): 752–772.
  • Schelpe, E.A.C.L.E., 1970. Lycopodiaceae. In: Exell, A.W. & Launert, E. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Pteridophyta. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 15–22.

Other references

  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Adjakidjè, V., Ahyi, M.R.A., Aké Assi, L., Akoègninou, A., d’Almeida, J., Apovo, F., Boukef, K., Chadare, M., Cusset, G., Dramane, K., Eyme, J., Gassita, J.N., Gbaguidi, N., Goudote, E., Guinko, S., Houngnon, P., Lo, I., Keita, A., Kiniffo, H.V., Kone-Bamba, D., Musampa Nseyya, A., Saadou, M., Sodogandji, T., De Souza, S., Tchabi, A., Zinsou Dossa, C. & Zohoun, T., 1989. Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques en République Populaire du Bénin. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 895 pp.
  • Alston, A.H.G., 1959. The ferns and fern-allies of West Tropical Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 89 pp.
  • Hegnauer, R., 1986. Chemotaxonomie der Pflanzen. Band 7. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel, Switzerland. 804 pp.
  • Lawalrée, A., 1989. Lycopodiaceae. In: Bamps, P. (Editor). Flore d’Afrique centrale. Pteridophytes. Jardin botanique national de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium. 22 pp.
  • 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(2): 113–120.
  • Novy, J.W., 1997. Medicinal plants of the eastern region of Madagascar. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 55: 119–126.
  • Perry, L.M., 1980. Medicinal plants of East and Southeast Asia: attributed properties and uses. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States and London, United Kingdom. 620 pp.
  • Raponda-Walker, A. & Sillans, R., 1961. Les plantes utiles du Gabon. Paul Lechevalier, Paris, France. 614 pp.
  • Tardieu-Blot, M.-L., 1971. Lycopodiacées (Lycopodiaceae). Flore de Madagascar et des Comores, familles 13 et 13 bis. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. pp. 3–13.
  • Yamada, T., 1999. A report of the ethnobotany of the Nyindu in the eastern part of the former Zaire. African Study Monographs 20(1): 1–72.

Sources of illustration

  • Wulijarni-Soetjipto, N. & de Winter, W.P., 2003. Lycopodiella cernua (L.) Pic. Serm. In: de Winter, W.P. & Amoroso, V.B. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 15(2): Cryptogams: Ferns and fern allies. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 121–123.


  • R.H.M.J. Lemmens, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2008. Lycopodiella cernua (L.) Pic.Serm. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 29 June 2022.