There is a special deeply shaded damp glade in Saluda Shoals Park where a soft gauzy light barely penetrates the canopy and the heavy air smells ancient. Here, you will find yourself among the remnants of a world from our planet’s distant past that dated from 354 to 290 million years ago – the Carboniferous Period which lasted for about 64 million years. Paleontologists tell us that during this period the vegetation was very different from what we see today. During that time dark humus soil supplied support for giant club mosses that towered 35 meters, tree ferns, great horsetails, and tall trees with strap-shaped leaves. Oxygen levels were much higher than we experience today and our huge coal deposits had their origins at that time. During the Carboniferous Period flowers and grasses did not grow and the Euramerica and Gondwana land masses eventually joined to form the large supercontinent Pangea.
The grandeur of club moss, trees, fern trees and other stately giant plants came to an abrupt end during a great extinction period with only a few families surviving. The remaining plants adapted to new environments in which we live today.
As we walk the sloped forested area we find beautiful club mosses growing in clumps of small plants reaching no more 10 cm tall. Club mosses belong to the plant Division: Lycopodiophyta sometimes called Lycophyta or Lycopods. The genus that grows in the park is Diphasiastrum. Club mosses are tracheophytes. This means that they have true roots, scale – like leaves, water and a nutrient conducting systems, are usually evergreen and reproduce by spores. The spores are clustered in cone like structures resembling clubs, giving the group it’s name. Club Mosses are considered the oldest extant (living) vascular plants on earth.
Uses: Over the years club mosses have been harvested for Christmas decorations. This practice has become illegal in many states because of growing rarity of club mosses and their kin. Common names for Club mosses are groundcedar and fan clubmoss.