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Tropical North Queensland, Australia.
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Tassel Fern

Tassel Fern
Photo Courtesy of: Heaton's Nursery Nambour

Rock Tassel fern Lycopodium (Huperzia squarrosa)

  • This is an ancient group of fern allies, which has declined dramatically since their peak in the Carboniferous era. 

  • The rock tassel fern (Huperzia squarrosa), which grows in the Wet Tropics today, is very similar to 415 million-year-old fossils from Victoria.

  • Tassel ferns are epiphytes, with long dangling stems.

  •  Some end in long tassel-like ‘clubs’, which are the spore-bearing cones, rather than those on staginella.

  • However in H. squarrosa the fertile spore-bearing leaves are the same as the normal leaves, a characteristic considered very primitive and indicative of its ancient lineage.

  • Related to the tassel ferns is a vigorous scrambling ground-creeping version (Lycopodium cernuum), which is common along sunny roadsides. 

  • It looks like a tiny pine tree with little cones on the erect branches.
    Courtesy of: Environmental Protection Agency, Cairns.

  • Also known as the ‘Water Tassel’ or the ‘Rock Tassel’, it is characterized by the following:
  • Stems pendent or arching, much branched, up to 60 cm long; leaves up to 1.2 cm long, very crowded, pale yellow-green, linear-acuminate with a long, pointed apex, spreading. 

  • Sporangia borne in the bases of the upper leaves, kidney-shaped, bright yellow; sporophylls smaller and less spreading than basal leaves, crowded.

  •   It is a very popular species, which is widely cultivated as a basket plant throughout eastern Australia, with some magnificent specimens to be seen in council conservatories etc. 

  • It grows on trees in low-land swamps and rainforests and appears to be quite rare in its native habitat.

Confusing species:

  •  None.

Distinguishing Features: 

  • The spreading, acuminate, pale-green leaves. 

  • The partially differentiated sporophylls crowded at the tips.


  • North-eastern Qld.


  • As for other tassel ferns. 

  • Requires heat in southern Australia.
    Jones.D.L, Clemesha. S.C., Australian Ferns and Fern Allies, 1980.

 Additional Information:

  • 'Tassel ferns' Huperzia/Lycopodium spp. are small leaved plants that hang down from trees as epiphytes, thus resembling tassels decorating the rainforest canopy (left).

  • They can easily be seen in the Daintree lowlands, such as along Mossman River.

Script: Courtesy of  Damon Ramsey BSc.(Zool) Biologist Guide

Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges
Lake Eacham, Atherton Tablelands
Tropical North Queensland, Australia.
PH & Fax: 07 4095 3754 International: 61 7 4095 3754

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