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NZ Plants

Club mosses and quillworts

Phylum: Lycophyta


This is a diverse group with leaves, stems and roots with conducting (vascular) tissue. The leaves are very small with a single unbranched vein and are called microphylls. In some species the inner surface of the leaf base has a small membranous outgrowth called a ligule. All lycophytes have an alternation of generations in which the larger, persistent plant is the sporophyte. Sporangia are on the upper leaf surface where the leaf joins the stem. In some species sporangia-bearing leaves are arranged into cones.

Today there are five living genera of herbaceous lycopsids with 12 genera and more than 1000 species distributed throughout the world. This phylum of plants is represented by 13 species in New Zealand of which two are endemic.
There are no native species of the spike mosses. 

Recognising a lycophyte

  • stems vary from creeping to short and erect and branches are in pairs (dichotomous)
  • leaves are relatively small and contain a single unbranched vascular bundle
  • sporangia are attached to the upper leaf surface

Early Lycophyta

The Lycophyta can be traced back almost 350 million years to the Devonian. By the Carboniferous they formed extensive forests of large trees in swampy areas. Tree forms became extinct by the end of the Permian while herbaceous forms survive up to the present.