A welcome migrant.

Selaginella kraussiana

Common names: Krauss’ spike moss, forest selaginella, spreading spike moss (Eng.); woud aarmos (Afr.)

I was quite intrigued about the little plant that  appeared in the shady part of our garden. Somehow the spores of Selaginella kraussiana found a suitable home in a flower bed  that  is shaded all year,  where it is moist and protected from the wind. What is of interest is where did the spores come from as  Selaginella kraussiana normally occurs from the Tsitsikamma Forests in the southern Eastern Cape, along the higher rainfall and milder lower lying eastern parts of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal to Swaziland, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. The species occurs mostly along streambanks, moist cliffs, at waterfalls, and along forest margins, but frequently also on the forest floor away from water. It may have originate from a cultivated plant somewhere in Knysna, but certainly not in our area as two years ago the fire destroyed most of the local gardens leaving them  barren and desolate.

Spikemosses and clubmosses are often referred to as ‘living fossils’, as they look very similar to their fossil relatives that lived 370-400 million years ago. However, present-day species differ dramatically in size from fossil species. Present-day ‘living fossils’ are usually less than one metre tall, whereas their ancestors reached forty metres or more in height. These giants are now extinct; only the smaller sorts survive.

Spikemosses are long-lived plants with a moderate growth rate. The plants grow on the soil, on rocks, and rarely also as low-level epiphytes. The prostrate stems on the soil surface form loose mats, rooting at the branching points of the stems which are unequally branched. They make excellent ground covers in dark shade but also lovely container plants for indoors.  This is best done in smaller containers positioned in areas receiving good, but not direct sunlight. As with cultivation outdoors, the humus-rich growing medium should be kept moist at all times.

Selaginella kraussiana is named after Christian Ferdinand von Krauss (9 July 1812-15 September 1914), who became Director of the Natural History Museum in Stuttgart in 1856. Krauss initially practiced as a pharmacist, but then studied mineralogy, zoology and chemistry. Krauss travelled and collected in South Africa from 7 May 1838 to 22 April 1840. Several South African plants species are named after Krauss. Kunze based S. kraussiana on one of the collections collected by Krauss during his sojourn from 2 June 1839 to 5 February 1840, in KwaZulu-Natal.