Fan clubmoss goes by several names, most of which compare its appearance to something else. Common names include crowsfoot and ground cedar, and it has also been referred to as bear's paws. Its botanical name is Diphasiastrum digital, which hails from the Lycopodium family.
Despite its many names, one thing is sure. It is not a moss. They are more similar to ferns and mushrooms, which reproduce via spores rather than seeds.
It does best in hardiness zones 4 to 7. An evergreen groundcover, this perennial plant grows only 3 to 8 inches in height. Colonies are typically found in mixed woodland and upland pine forests. It prefers dappled sunlight, light shade, and slightly acidic, well-drained, moist soils. The plants often provide cover for ground-nesting birds.
It is recognized by its tiny, pointed, and scale-like, deep-green foliage. Once spores are established, the plants are spread by rhizome stems, which grow not underground but under leaf litter along the forest floor. Extremely slow-growing, the stems shoot up pale yellow, cone-like protuberances called stromboli, where packages of spores are formed. Spores are released to the wind in late summer and into the autumn.
It can take years for spores to establish themselves as plants, and it can be pretty tricky to propagate or transplant. However, transplanting is best successful if plants are deeply dug up to include a large clump of soil surrounding the plant, taking special care not to disturb roots. Gardeners fortunate to have a woodland area with established species would be best served by leaving the plants where they are instead of creating a quiet path into the woods and employing them as part of a secret garden. A mix of colorful wildflowers can make a beautiful enhancement.
Fan clubmoss has been oft-compared in appearance to full-size evergreens such as arborvitaes and cedars. Interestingly, its distant cousins can be traced back 410 million years ago to the Carboniferous period, where the atmosphere was significantly different, and similar plants grew to over 130 feet in height. Today those distant cousins are part of the coal deposits mined throughout the northern hemisphere.
The plants are homeopathic remedies for digestive disorders, including constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn, skin irritations, sore throats, and fatigue. Lycopodium powder from fan clubmoss is used as pill coatings. The plants also contain combustible oils, which have been used for pyrotechnics and science demonstrations. They have also been used to fashion Christmas greenery.