Six Shades of Selaginella

Many of us have had our hearts broken by this temperamental and delicate mistress. It all starts with nothing more than an innocent glance at the garden center, but then you feel compelled to feel her velvety foliage against the back of your hands. Before you know what hit you, you're fondling her luxuriant fronds all the way home with a heart racing wildly in anticipation of what's to come.

But your love was not enough... or perhaps it was it too much? It doesn't matter if you smothered her in your embrace, failed to provide the steamy humidity she craves, or scorched her with the hot and burning sun; your sweet, sweet Selaginella has withered under your control and has left you for the compost heap.

What happens to an unhappily dry Selaginella

It didn't have to end that way. All you had to do was be a good listener and cater to her needs! Because I know you meant well and really want a second chance, I'd like to introduce you to six spikemosses to pick up on the rebound, just as long as you read my tips on how to keep Selaginella happy and healthy next time around.

Six Selaginella for the Savvy Fella

Selaginella kraussiana 'Aurea'
Selaginella flabellata
Selaginella emmeliana
Selaginella brownii 'Lacy Spikemoss'
Selaginella kraussiana 'Brownii' (Pin-cushion spikemoss)
Selaginella erythropus 'Ruby Red'

How to Take Care of Selaginella

Water Often

I'll make this simple for you. Keep the soil moist. I know that over-watering is the leading cause of houseplant homicide, but Selaginella likes it nice and damp. The soil shouldn't stay dripping wet, but it shouldn't completely dry out either. I prefer to water with a mister since it wets the foliage as well, but any watering method will suffice.

Provide Humidity

Ah, that elusive humidity. You'll know that your Selaginella needs humidity when the stems and leaves start to curl up and dry out, but it's actually pretty easy to remedy. Here are several ways.

Gold spikemoss planted with nerve plant, arrowhead vine and Anthurium.
Combine with other plants. This creates a humid microclimate and prevents the moisture from being sucked out of those delicate looking stems. You can either make a combination planting as I have in the photo above, or you can just place it near other larger houseplants. Here's an example of a combo using spikemosses.

A lantern makes for a nice makeshift terrarium
Grow in a terrarium. It could be an old fashioned wardian case, a modern looking glass bowl, or even a re-purposed lantern like this one. The closed environment keeps the air around your Selaginella steamy and warm, and it also happens to be a nice look.

Mist the foliage. Use anything from a hair spritzer to a pressurized tank sprayer. I prefer the latter, but either will envelop the Selaginella in moist air, leaving droplets on the foliage that evaporate and provide humidity throughout the day.

Grow Outdoors. Some Selaginella will thrive outdoors in zones 6-10, provided they're grown in a damp, shady and acidic spot. I recommend planting at the base of gingers, hostas or other shade and moisture loving plants where they'll benefit from the added shade and humidity. Those suitable for the Southeast US include S. kraussiana, S. braunii and S. uncinata.

Provide Shade.

A classic mistake is to put Selaginella in direct sunlight where the foliage becomes scorched before you can say "Southern fried Selaginella on a smokin and sunny summer day!" As long as they stay out of the direct sunlight, (the kind that leaves a shadow of your hand with clear outlines) they'll do okay.

Keep the soil acidic.

Regular potting mix should do just fine, but if you have hard water, you might have to flush out the accumulated salts and amend the soil with acidic peat moss periodically. If growing outdoors, test the pH balance of the soil before planting. 

Luckily spikemosses are easy to start from cuttings. I've pressed one against my rock planted bonsai and it's already attached new roots!

This Selaginella cutting was inserted into a moss covered rock along with my bonsai and is now putting out roots.

I would like to thank Ray Roberts of Central Florida Ferns for sharing these superb Selaginella plants with me for use in my upcoming book on indoor container gardens. If you would like to purchase any of the spikemosses featured here, Central Florida Ferns sells wholesale to the trade and Tropiflora sells them on both their nursery and retail website.

For all their charm, spikemosses aren't for everyone. If you tend to forget to water your plants, check out my list of what I've found to be ten of the easiest houseplants for black thumbs. If you'd like to combine them with other plants, check out this combo that I made for a demonstration. Better yet, learn how to arrange them in my book on easy houseplant combos called Plant by Numbers!


  1. I like your creative use of a lantern as a Wardian case. I've developed a passion for Wardian case terrariums. you've given me a new idea - thanks!


  2. Thank you for the great information!

  3. Thanks!!! I keep killing them and I have a pretty green thumb. I keep them in aTerrarium, but now I'm thinking our hard water might be the culprit! Or I let it dry out too much when trying to rid the terrarium of mold when I've overwatered.

    Thanks! I won't completely give up then.

  4. So glad I found this. My Trader Joe's just offered a large quantity of the golden clubmoss where the gold is creamy white. they're in 4" pots and being marketed as the "Frosty Fern" with a snowman on the label.
    They are perfectly healthy and I bought 3, supposedly to give as gifts. Now I'm getting so enamored, I don't know if I'll let any of them go.
    Their label says Selaginella krausianna variegatus.
    The undersides of most every frond has put out tender root-like which weren't visible until I peeled their little paper pot covers down. They appear to have been forced to live in a vertical position and I wonder if I take the paper off, will they put their skirts down to a horizontal position?
    thanks and Happy Holidays,
    Elly D.

  5. Thank you for the great information!


Please feel free to share your questions, ideas and suggestions!