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Huperzia selago (L.) Bernh. ex Schrank & Mart.

northern firmoss

New England Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

Where native and non-native distributions co-occur in a county, only the native distribution is shown.

North America Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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Facts About

Northern firmoss has a circumboreal distribution, and is widespread in Canada, but in New England it is rare. It inhabits a variety of cool boreal habitats, but does not ascend to the alpine zone in our region. The Upper Tanana Indians used the whole plant in a poultice applied to the head for headaches.

Habitat

Anthropogenic (man-made or disturbed habitats), cliffs, balds, or ledges, forests, meadows and fields, shores of rivers or lakes

Characteristics

Habitat
  • terrestrial
  • wetlands
New England state
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Vermont
Leaf shape
the vegetative leaves are short and scale-like
Spore leaf arrangement
the sporophylls are located in whorls along the shoot
Form of shoot
the plant has an upright stem, and the stem has simple branches
Horizontal stem
NA
Leaf differences
the vegetative leaves within a node are all similar in size and shape
Teeth on leaf edges
  • the edges of the vegetative leaves have no teeth
  • the edges of the vegetative leaves have tiny teeth
Leaf outline
  • the vegetative leaves are widest above the base, then taper narrowly towards the tip (lanceolate)
  • the vegetative leaves are roughly triangular, widest at the base where the leaf joins the stem
Show All Characteristics
  • Clonal plantlets
    Gemma arrangement
    the gemmae are found only at the top of each annual growth zone
    Gemma shape
    • the tips of the leaves of the gemma are acute (sharply pointed)
    • the tips of the leaves of the gemma are obtuse (bluntly pointed)
    Gemma width
    3–4.5 mm
  • Leaves
    Leaf differences
    the vegetative leaves within a node are all similar in size and shape
    Leaf length
    3.5–7.5 mm
    Leaf orientation
    • the vegetative leaves spread away from the stem
    • the vegetative leaves spread slightly away from the stem, at a steep angle
    Leaf outline
    • the vegetative leaves are widest above the base, then taper narrowly towards the tip (lanceolate)
    • the vegetative leaves are roughly triangular, widest at the base where the leaf joins the stem
    Leaf ranks
    NA
    Leaf shape
    the vegetative leaves are short and scale-like
    Pores on leaves
    there are pores on both sides of the vegetative leaves
    Teeth on leaf edges
    • the edges of the vegetative leaves have no teeth
    • the edges of the vegetative leaves have tiny teeth
  • Place
    Habitat
    • terrestrial
    • wetlands
    New England state
    • Maine
    • Massachusetts
    • New Hampshire
    • Vermont
    Specific habitat
    • cliffs, balds, or ledges
    • forests
    • man-made or disturbed habitats
    • meadows or fields
    • shores of rivers or lakes
  • Spores or spore cones
    Cone base at stem
    NA
    Cone stalk branching
    NA
    Cone thickness
    0 mm
    Cone width
    0 mm
    Length of cone
    0 mm
    Number of cones
    0
    Quillwort itssue covering spores
    NA
    Same or different spores
    there is only one type of spore present
    Spore diameter
    0.0289–0.037
    Spore girdle
    NA
    Spore leaf arrangement
    the sporophylls are located in whorls along the shoot
    Spore leaf lifespan
    the sporophylls remain green for the life of the plant
    Spore leaf orientation
    • the sporophylls are pressed against the spore cone
    • the sporophylls slant upwards at a steep angle
    Spore leaf shape
    the spore-bearing leaves are small and scale-like
    Spore leaf teeth
    The edges of the spore-bearing leaves are smooth, and without teeth
    Spore texture
    the spore surface has an irregular pattern of ridges and empty spaces (rugulate), or it has minute pits on it (foveolate)
    Sporophyll ranks
    NA
    Sterile tip of cone
    NA
  • Stem, shoot, branch
    Branch cross-section
    the outermost level of branches are round, elliptic or semicircular in cross-section
    Branch form
    the branches are similar in size to the main stem
    Constriction zones
    • NA
    • there are constricted zones on the vertical stem where the leaves are smaller smaller or closer together
    Form of shoot
    the plant has an upright stem, and the stem has simple branches
    Horizontal stem
    NA
    Horizontal stem length
    0 mm
    Horizontal stem thickness
    0 mm
    Stem height
    80–120 mm

Wetland Status

Occurs in wetlands or non-wetlands. (Wetland indicator code: FAC)

New England Distribution and Conservation Status

Distribution

Connecticut
absent
Maine
present
Massachusetts
present
New Hampshire
present
Rhode Island
absent
Vermont
present

Conservation Status

Exact status definitions can vary from state to state. For details, please check with your state.

Connecticut
not applicable (S-rank: SNA), special concern, extirpated (code: SC*)
Maine
rare (S-rank: S2), threatened (code: T)
Massachusetts
extremely rare (S-rank: S1), endangered (code: E)
New Hampshire
historical (S-rank: SH), endangered (code: E)
Vermont
extremely rare (S-rank: S1)

var. selago

Massachusetts
unranked (S-rank: SNR)

Native to North America?

Yes

Sometimes Confused With

Huperzia lucidula
Huperzia appressa

Family

Huperziaceae

Genus

Huperzia

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Information from Dichotomous Key of Flora Novae Angliae

3.  Huperzia selago (L.) Bernh. ex Mart. & Schrank NC

northern firmoss. Lycopodium selago L.; L. selago L. var. patens (Beauv.) Desv.; Plananthus selago (L.) Beauv.; Urostachys selago (L.) Herter • MA, ME, NH, VT; northern and colder counties. Hydric habitats in ± boreal regions, such as in ditches and low fields, also on lake shores and less commonly in forests, at cliff bases, and in mountain gullies. This species is commonly reported from alpine habitats, but those reports are based on H. appressa and hybrids with that species.

1×3. Huperzia appressa × Huperzia selago Huperzia ×‌josephbeitelii A. Haines is the most common firmoss hybrid in 
New England and is known from ME, NH. It is found primarily above treeline in alpine areas. Like other Huperzia hybrids, this nothospecies has polymorphic (i.e., abortive) spores. The plants are similar to shade forms of H. appressa but are more stocky 
(i.e., shoots 7–10 mm wide inclusive of trophophylls vs. 3–7 mm) and have larger gemmae (the lateral leaves 1–1.5 mm wide vs. 0.5–1.1 (–1.2) mm).

2×3. Huperzia lucidula × Huperzia selago Huperzia ×‌buttersii (Abbe) Kartesz & Ghandi is a rare firmoss hybrid known 
from ME, NH, VT. It usually occurs in hydric and/or coniferous forests. It somewhat resembles small forms of H. lucidula but has trophophylls with ± parallel margins, obscure, papilla-like teeth, and a few stomates (i.e., fewer than 30 per ½ adaxial 
leaf surface.