How many times have you been told, “keep your head up while walking on the trail!” It’s a good thing to do, but in this case, I was on a nature photography trip with the Webster Groves Nature Study Society and really needed to keep my head low to the ground. We were searching for clubmoss. Having never seen this species before, I stuck out locating it, as I misidentified all different species of moss along the trail and cliff edges at Hawn State Park. That was until Rick from the Missouri Native Plant Society locked his gaze on our targeted species – Missouri Deeproot clubmoss “Diphasiastrum tristachyum”
At first glance it looks like a small evergreen – Leaves are evergreen in appearance, appearing opposite but spirally arranged with four evenly spaced leaves in a cycle, appearing as four columns. Branch leaves are blue-green, appressed with the base extending down the stem (decurrent), the whole leaf narrowly spatula-shaped and broadest near the tip. The free portion is scale-like, up to 1/16 inch (to 1.7 mm) long, to .9 mm wide, toothless, tapering to a pointed tip and is often whitish green at the tip end. All 4 leaves in a spiral cycle are similar in size and shape, making the branches squarish to roundish in cross-section.
Spores develop in spike-like or cone-like structures called strobili, usually 3 or 4 strobili clustered at the tip of a long stalk (peduncle), occasionally 2 or as many as 7. One to 3 peduncles rise up to 5 inches above the leaves, with appressed, scale-like leaves spiralling up at regular intervals. Strobili are 3/8 to 1+ inch long, each strobilus also distinctly stalked on forked branches, stalks typically becoming shorter with each fork. Each tiny spore sac is attached to a scale (sporophyll) that is about 1/8 inch (to 3.5mm) long, broadly diamond to tear-drop shaped and tapering to a slender, sharply pointed tip. Scales are initially light blue-green and tightly appressed, turning yellowish as they mature and light brown when dry, then become more spreading to release the spores in late summer into fall. The strobili can persist through winter.
Now that I have described the target species, I will share how I captured the image. One of my 2022 goals is to invest more time in “macro photography” So to get this image, I laid on my side, on the ground, the lower perspective helped me to achieve the composition I desired. Once I had a decent composition, I used an umbrella diffuser to mitigate the strong dappled light which was pouring in from the canopy, next took a test shoot to determine if what I saw is something I would be please with and I was. Then I used a technique called focus stacking (which combines multiple images taken at different focus distances to give a resulting image with a greater depth of field than any of the individual source images.) The end image is a focus stack of 20 images aligned and blended in Adobe Photoshop.
Until the next adventure and thank you for stopping by!
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