The Dino Plant, also known as the Selaginella lepidophylla, is an ancient rosette-forming herb that is native to the Chihuahuan Desert and the Southwestern US. They belong to an ancient group of plants known as Club Mosses, or Lycopodiophyta. The name is greek for “wolf’s foot,” as many Lycopodiophyta tend to have leaves shaped like wolves’ feet.
These plants are referred to as “fern allies” because they produce spores like ferns, are primitive like ferns, but are not actually ferns. All of the spore-producing plants that weren’t ferns were tossed into the “Fern Ally” group, even if they were unrelated.
Long story short, “Club Moss” and “Fern Ally” are antiquated terms, but are still of some use to horticulturalists. These terms mean that the plants like humid, warm environments with lots of light and frequent waterings.
All of their closest relatives are extinct. What’s even more baffling is the fact that while most Selaginella are like other club mosses and prefer wet environments, Selaginella lepidophylla is a desert plant that has evolved to survive dry environments. They have done so by evolving the ability to completely dry up and recover. The Chihuahuan Desert used to be a part of a much larger and wetter expanse of land that was the perfect environment for plants that like humidity and wet- some of it was even an inland sea. However, as the sea dried up, the other plants which couldn’t adapt died.
The shape of the plant is particularly interesting. When dried, the plants' inner fronds tend to curl tightly, whereas the outer fronds tend to curl much less tightly. As the plant grows in a rosette form, the outer fronds are the older fronds. As the fronds get older, they lignify, meaning they produce a woody matrix outside of their cells. This causes the fronds to be less pliable, and will make them less curly as well. When conditions are moist, and these plants are in the active state for long enough, they will reproduce by sporulation.
Thrives in bright indirect light, but can tolerate a few hours of direct sun.
Activate plant by soaking the entire plant in warm water. When active, keep partially submerged in warm water keeping the top of the plant above the water and the roots in the water. Change the water every few days but let it evaporate. After a month of being active, let it completely dry out. Do not try to stop the drying process if it has already begun.
Alternatively, these can be planted in the soil and the soil be kept perpetually moist. If the plant starts to dry out, care must be taken to let the plant dry out completely before adding water. Do not attempt to “save” the plant by adding water. Allow to dry out completely once in a while, or after 2 weeks.
Can be planted in moist soil or grown in water. Be sure to fertilize regularly!
High humidity is best, but it can tolerate normal humidity. If humidity is low, place in a glass terrarium with a loose-fitting lid.
65°F-85°F (18°C-30°C). It’s best not to let it go below 60°F (15°C).
Dry crispy plants can be revived! Just re-submerge when completely dried out.
SYMPTOM: Mold or browning wet leaves.
CAUSE: Too much of the plant is underwater.
SYMPTOM: Edges of fronds are still dry and curled up.
CAUSE: Low humidity. Generally ok, but try to increase humidity/splash water on it.
Generally ok to cats, dogs, and humans if consumed. Best practice is always to keep houseplants out of reach of small children and pets.
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