Selaginella lepidophylla

Selaginella lepidophylla (Hook. & Grev.) Spring
(Greek, lepis or lepidos, scale, and phyllon, leaf)

Local names: resurrection plant, siempre viva, flower of stone

Plant forming striking open rosettes (to ca. 25 cm in diam.); rhizophores only on basal part of rosette; main branches much branched, flattened in overall aspect when moist, curling inward upon drying, giving the rosette a brownish ball-like (fist-sized) appearance; leaves in 4 distinct ranks, 2 lateral, 2 medial, conspicuously overlapping, all without apical bristle and with conspicuous whitish transparent margins, the two types of leaves similar—the lateral leaves deltate to deltate-ovate, apically rounded, the medial broadly ovate, apically abruptly acuminate to obtuse; strobili solitary, quadrangular, 3–12 mm long; sporophylls apically acuminate to acute. On rock or soil, dry slopes, talus, most commonly on limestone, but sometimes on other substrates, typically in situations where excessive direct sun is minimized; widespread in the Trans-Pecos and in adjacent Val Verde (J.L. Blassingame 2819, BRIT, 25 mi w of Loma Alta [e of the Pecos River]; Correll 14919, TEX-LL, near mouth of Devil’s River [e of the Pecos River]) and Crockett (Turner et al. 2003) cos. in the far w Edwards Plateau; in the U.S. known only from NM and TX; also widespread in Mexico. Sporulating Apr–Jan. [Lycopodium lepidophyllum Hook. & Grev.] When moist, the rosettes of this species are flat and quite striking (bright green). Yarborough and Powell (2002) noted that because “this species occurs in abundance only in north-facing habitats, it is a good indicator of direction to those traveling in desert areas.” It is called resurrection plant or incorrectly (because it is not a fern) resurrection fern since when dry the flat main branches curl inward and the entire plant becomes ball-like and brownish. However, when rehydrated, uncurling occurs and the plant resumes normal growth “even after years of being dry” (Velaspino 1993) (G. Yatskievych [pers. comm.], however, noted that the uncurling is mechanical and there is no evidence supporting the contention that plants can survive for years in a curled state). Because of this ability, it is grown as a curiosity and house plant and is cultivated in greenhouses. Lebkuecher and Eickmeier (1991, 1993) noted that curling reduced light exposure of the still-living internal tissues by more than 99.7% and protected against damage caused by the combination of bright light, high temperature, and desiccation stress (see page 28). Jim Blassingame (pers. comm.), who has a great deal of experience with this species in the field, pointed out that it can develop a “fairy ring” effect with the central area dying out and peripheral portions continuing to grow. Although there are numerous localities in the Trans-Pecos, Velaspino (1993) considered the species to be of conservation concern. Because it is widely known as “resurrection plant,” its populations are potentially threatened by over-collecting.

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