Huperzia phlegmaria (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Huperzia phlegmaria (L) Rothm.

Protologue: Feddes Repert. Spec. Nov. Regni Veg. 54: 62 (1944).
Family: Lycopodiaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 272


Lycopodium phlegmaria L. (1753), Urostachys phlegmaria (L.) Herter ex Nessel (1939), Phlegmariurus phlegmaria (L.) Holub (1964).

Vernacular names

  • Common tassel fern, coarse tassel fern, Queensland tassel fern (En, Aus)
  • Indonesia: kumpai rantai (general), kumpai rante, kumpai pure (Sundanese)
  • Philippines: tagigongai (Negros), tagolailai (Tagalog), talironghai (Bisaya)
  • Cambodia: kompoi kmeng
  • Thailand: chong nang khli (south-western), klet nakkharat (north-eastern), yom doi (central)
  • Vietnam: rêu cây.

Origin and geographic distribution

H. phlegmaria is distributed in the Old World tropics, from Africa, Madagascar, India and Sri Lanka throughout South-East Asia to Taiwan, Japan, Ryukyu Islands and Australia. In and outside its distribution area it is also cultivated as an ornamental, e.g. in Indonesia and the Philippines.


H. phlegmaria is used as an ornamental, commonly grown as a hanging plant. It is used to wash hair in the belief that it stimulates hair growth.

Production and international trade

H. phlegmaria is mainly collected from the wild and sold on local markets, but statistics are not available.


In China, the following chemical compounds were found in H. phlegmaria : the alkaloids lycodoline, lucidioline and lycopodine and the flavonoid apigenin. The use in South-East Asia of H. phlegmaria to stimulate hair growth is based on signature only.


An epiphytic, repeatedly forked, pendulous herb, up to about 2 m long. Stem pendulous, (15-)40-80(-190) cm × 1-2.5(-5) mm, 1-4 times branching into two equal branches at irregular intervals, brown, dark and lustrous in the oldest parts, paler near the growing point, coarse. Leaves subdistant, slightly twisted, spirally whorled in 4-8 rows, spreading, subpetiolate; lamina triangular to ovate-lanceolate, 4-15(-30) mm × 2.5-7 mm, base rounded-truncate or cordate, margins entire, yellowish-green, coriaceous, midrib prominent. Strobili terminal, cylindrical, (1.5-)4-15 cm × 1-2 mm, distinctly demarcated from vegetative parts of the stem, repeatedly dichotomously branched; sporophylls in four rows, crowded to subdistant, appressed, ovate-subdeltoid, about 1.2 mm × 1.5 mm, entire, green, turning yellowish at maturity, only partly covering the sporangium; sporangium borne at the base of the sporophyll, reniform, deeply grooved, sessile. Spores triangular, trilete, 35 μm in diameter, bright yellow, granulated.

Growth and development

Little is known about the development of H. phlegmaria from spore to sporophyte. Spores remain dormant for a long time. When germinating, they develop in the substrate a cylindrical, abundantly branched gametophyte, on which the antheridia and archegonia develop. After fertilization, the sporophyte can start growing.

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 Bernhardi 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. Members of the genus Huperzia where the fertile leaves are markedly different from the vegetative leaves have sometimes been classified in Phlegmariurus Holub. H. phlegmaria is very variable and further taxonomic research might reveal that it is possibly a species complex.


H. phlegmaria occurs in relatively cool, partially shaded locations on mossy tree trunks or on rocks, preferring abundant moisture but tolerating dryness, in forests usually at 800-2300 m altitude.

Propagation and planting

The spores of H. phlegmaria have highly resistant walls and may germinate only after a long time. Vegetative propagation is easier and possible by division.


If H. phlegmaria is planted in pots, coconut husk or broken adventitious roots of tree ferns may be used as a medium where wet and cool conditions are maintained. In the tropics daily watering is necessary.

Genetic resources and breeding

H. phlegmaria is a rare plant in the wild. For ornamental use plants are cultivated so collection from the wild does not seem to pose a real threat of extinction. It is, however, a species growing in a vulnerable environment where habitat destruction may have a severe impact. Therefore, germplasm collection is strongly recommended. Breeding programmes do not exist, but the development of ornamental cultivars seems worthwhile.


If a reliable propagation method could be developed, a small but high-value market could be developed selling H. phlegmaria as an ornamental. It seems logical to search further for alkaloids as several other Huperzia species have shown medicinally promising ones.


  • 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. 231.
  • 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.


V.B. Amoroso