Huperzia carinata (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Huperzia carinata (Desv. ex Poir.) Trevis.

Protologue: Atti Soc. Ital. Sci. Nat. (Milano) 17: 247 (1874).
Family: Lycopodiaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= unknown


Lycopodium carinatum Desv. ex Poir (1814), Urostachys carinatus (Desv. ex Poir.) Herter ex Nessel (1939), Phlegmariurus carinatus (Desv. ex Poir.) Ching (1982).

Vernacular names

  • Keeled tassel fern (En)
  • Indonesia: kumpai lubang (Sundanese)
  • Thailand: hang nu, hang pia check, soi nari (south-eastern).

Origin and geographic distribution

H. carinata grows naturally in tropical Asia (including South-East Asia), the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, Polynesia and Australia. In Thailand H. carinata is rather rare.


H. carinata is mainly used as an ornamental. A pendulous fern ally with slender branches and very small, densely crowded leaves , it is suitable for hanging baskets. In South-East Asia washing the hair with an extract of the whole plant has been used to improve hair growth.

Production and international trade

In Thailand and the Philippines H. carinata is collected from the forest and sold on local markets, but statistics are not available.


In China, the chemical compounds huperzine A, lycodoline, lucidioline and lycopodine were found from H. carinata . From H. serrata (Thunb.) Trevis., also occurring in the same distribution area, the alkaloids huperzine A and huperzine B are known. These have demonstrated anticholinesterase activity and have also been effective in behaviour tests for appraising animal learning and improving memory function in humans. Huperzine A improved memory for 1-4 hours after injection and the effect was sustained for approximately 8 hours. It has been approved by the Chinese Committee on New Drug Evaluation for the treatment of senile dementia and aged memory impairment. H. serrata has been used in China for centuries to treat fever and inflammation. The use in South-East Asia of an extract of H. carinata to stimulate hair growth is based on signature only.


A variable, epiphytic herb, with long, lax, pendent branches, the narrower forms slender and snake-like; roots usually forming one basal tuft. Stem at first erect, becoming pendulous, (10-)35-50(-100) cm × 7-15 mm (including the leaf cover), 1-4 times dichotomously branched, pale green. Leaves subapproximate, spirally whorled in 6-8 rows, ascending to appressed, sessile; lamina lanceolate-subulate, 7-13 mm × 1-1.3 mm, base decurrent, margins entire, apex acute, grey-green to yellowish-green, subcoriaceous, midrib distinct, keeled. Strobili terminal, cylindrical, 4-8 cm × 2.5-4 mm, more or less distinctly demarcated from vegetative parts of the stem, not branched; sporophylls in four rows, ovate to oblong-subdeltoid, 4-5 mm long, as broad as the sterile leaves or broader, sharply keeled, acuminate, rather appressed; sporangium borne at the base of the sporophyll, sessile, reniform, smooth, yellow. Spores triangular, trilete, 40 μm in diameter, granulated.

Growth and development

Gametophytes of H. carinata have rarely been observed. The spore walls of Huperzia Bernhardi are highly resistant and the spore may germinate only after a long time, developing into a slowly maturing, mycotrophic, subterranean (or in the substrate when epiphytic) gametophyte. After developing antheridia and archegonia, fertilization takes place and sporophyte development can begin.

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). Huperzia is now the largest genus and comprises about (200-)300(-400) species which are, however, difficult to distinguish due to the wide plasticity of the characteristics. Its diversity is highest in tropical evergreen montane forest. In older literature Lycopodium laxum C. Presl (synonyms: H. cancellata (Spring) Trevis., H. laxa (C. Presl) T. Sen & U. Sen, Phlegmariurus cancellatus (Spring) Ching) is mentioned as a synonym of Lycopodium carinatum but is now sometimes considered a different species. It is possible that specimens of Thailand might belong to that species.


H. carinata is an epiphyte on tree branches, occurring from sea-level up to 1000 m altitude.

Propagation and planting

H. carinata is uncommonly found in cultivation, but is easy to grow. It can be propagated by stem cuttings. It cannot be grown in soil; suitable growing media are, for example, sphagnum peat, pine bark and charcoal. The potting mix should be well drained, providing plenty of aeration around the roots.


Hanging containers are particularly suitable for H. carinata . Wet and shady conditions are necessary. Application of liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion, seaweed extract or soluble fertilizer stimulates growth.

Diseases and pests

Although no serious diseases and pests are known, occasional use of a systemic fungicide and insecticide are recommended to keep the plants healthy. Sometimes, fern scale can cause damage and slugs and snails eat the tips of young shoots.

Genetic resources and breeding

No germplasm collections or breeding programmes of H. carinata are known to exist. In Australia it has the status of endangered species.


Lycopodioids are much sought after for subtropical gardens and as indoor plants. Any species, including H. carinata , that is easy to grow has potential as an ornamental, and germplasm collection is urgently recommended. It is worthwhile searching for possibly interesting alkaloids in the plant tissue and if found, cultivation of H. carinata on a larger scale will need further research.


  • Alston, A.H.G., 1951. Lycopodiacées [Lycopodiaceae]. In: Gagnepain, F. (General Editor): Flore générale de l’Indo-Chine. Vol. 7(2). Masson, Paris, France. pp. 546-555.
  • Andrews, S.B., 1990. Ferns of Queensland. Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane, Australia. p. 226.
  • Backer, C.A. & Posthumus, O., 1939. Varenflora voor Java [Fern flora for Java]. 's Lands Plantentuin, Buitenzorg, Dutch East Indies. pp. 272-278.
  • Goudey, C.J., 1988. A handbook of ferns for Australia and New Zealand. Lothian Publishing Co., Melbourne, Australia.
  • Øllgaard, B., 1987. A revised classification of the Lycopodiaceae sensu lato. Opera Botanica 92: 153-178.
  • Tagawa, M. & Iwatsuki, K., 1979. Lycopodiaceae. In: 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.
  • Tsai, J.L. & Shieh, W.C., 1994. Lycopodiaceae. In: Huang, T.C. et al. (Editors): Flora of Taiwan. 2nd Edition. Vol. 1. Editorial Committee of the Flora of Taiwan, Department of Botany, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan. pp. 29-44.
  • 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.


T. Boonkerd