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Ground pine, a festive native plant

Bob Dluzen
Special to The Detroit News

We have an area on our property that we let grow wild. It provides shelter for wildlife, nesting sites and materials for birds, and a home to insects and other organisms. It is also a spot where many native plants have become re-established.

One of those plants, flowering right now in the middle of December, is the festive-looking “ground pine”.

OK, it’s not actually flowering per se, but instead are sporulating by sending up reproductive stalks full of spores. It is amazing to me that a plant reproduces like that this time of year in Michigan.

Ground pine is a common name for a group of species of club moss. Their leaves strongly resemble miniature evergreen trees but they only grow to about 6 to 8 inches tall.

Looking at this close up you can see how the leaves resemble an evergreen tree.

While they don’t produce pine cones, the tops of their reproductive stalks vaguely remind you of a pine cone. I tapped a few of those stalks and each one released a small cloud of fresh spores.

The reproductive structures contain a huge amount of spores for such a small plant.

Ground pine stays green all year round, further reinforcing its reputation as a mini evergreen tree.

Club moss are very attractive plants and because of that, many people in the past have tried to dig them up and move them to their own gardens. Many more plants were harvested for Christmas wreaths further reducing the native population. Even more plant populations were inadvertently destroyed by land developers and farmers. As a result, all species of club moss are protected by state law in Michigan.

If left undisturbed, club moss grows into an attractive stand of plants

Several years ago we tried cutting a few shoots to make into Christmas decorations but they very quickly wilted into a dried mess. I suspect ours is a different species than the ones harvested in other areas of the country.

I’ve been watching our stands of ground pine for many years. Over that time they have expanded and now cover a fairly good sized area.

For plant lovers, it is a treat to find ground pine, especially this time of year. It’s sort of like stumbling across a Christmas wreath that mother nature herself made for us.