Spike Moss Plant: How To Grow And Care For Selaginella

Selaginella pulcherrima [sell-lah-gi-NEL-uh, pul-KAIR-ih-muh] means a beautiful plant resembling a small Selago. 

People commonly call the plant “spike moss” due to its mossy qualities. 

It has low, moss-like growth and produces spores like ferns for reproduction. Most varieties don’t grow more than a few inches tall.

Spike Moss - Selaginella
Image: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It belongs to the selaginella genus, the sole genus of plants in the Selaginellaceae family. 

It’s native to tropical regions around the world, but it has become a popular houseplant.

Due to its unique characteristics, this plant requires special care, including specific types of soil and watering schedules. 

Spike Moss Selaginella Care

Size and Growth

Spike moss is a tiny plant, rarely reaching more than a few inches in height. 

It grows slowly but does spread, so avoid planting it too close to other plants.

It produces mossy growth, with soft dark green leaves. 

The leaves contain spores, allowing the plant to reproduce without pollination. 

It’s a hardy plant with tough roots and stems. 

The creeping stems hold the plant together, making it difficult to pull from the soil. 

While it’s not invasive, keep it from growing too close to other plants.

Flowering and Fragrance

As a spore plant, the spike moss doesn’t flower.

Light and Temperature

The low-growing plant may work as a ground cover in many regions, as it can survive temperatures as low as 0° degrees Fahrenheit (-18° C) during the winter. 

It’s winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 6 or higher.

It also thrives in the shade but requires warm temperatures during the summer. 

If grown indoors in a terrarium, pot, or box, keep it near a window with lots of sunlight, but avoid direct afternoon light. 

Watering and Feeding

Spike moss won’t survive droughts. 

It needs frequent watering to keep the soil from drying out.

Use fertilizer with each feeding throughout the spring, summer, and fall. 

The plant doesn’t need fertilizer during the winter, but it still requires regular watering.

Soil and Transplanting

Selaginella pulcherrima grows best in humus-rich soil. 

The soil should offer good water retention, keeping the roots from drying out too quickly. 

Don’t transplant the plant unless it needs repotting into a larger container. 

Grooming

Spike moss doesn’t need grooming, but pruning helps encourage new growth. 

If the plant recently suffered from a health problem, such as a nutrient deficiency, cutting back the unhealthy foliage allows new foliage to grow. 

Pinching back the stems may also help prevent leggy growth. 

Luckily, this is rarely an issue for selaginella pulcherrima. 

However, other varieties of selaginella may produce leggier growth.

How to Propagate Spike Moss

Propagate by division or cuttings, preferably in the spring.

Keep in mind propagation isn’t always successful.

To propagate by division:

  • Carefully remove the entire plant from the soil. 
  • Set it on a table or patio and cut the growth into two or more smaller plants.
  • Plant each division in fresh soil, rich with humus and organic matter. 
  • Don’t cover the containers. 
  • Simply place them in a bright window and ensure they get plenty of water.

To propagate with cuttings:

  • Cut a healthy stem from the mother plant and plant directly in rich soil. 
  • Don’t move the plant outdoors until the cutting takes root.

These plants don’t produce seeds. 

As mentioned, they reproduce using spores.

The plant goes through two generations. 

The first generation is the diploid generation. 

This generation may last for up to 25 years before it produces the spores to begin the reproductive cycle. 

The spores grow in the soil for several years before the plant starts to grow. 

Due to this reproductive cycle, division and cuttings are the only ways to propagate the plant.

Selaginella Pulcherrima Pest or Disease Problems

Pests rarely disturb this plant. The main threat is a nutrient deficiency.

If the soil is too acidic or the soil lacks nutrients, the plant may not grow well. 

The leaves may appear thin and weak, instead of thick and fleshy. 

If the plant doesn’t grow healthy foliage, repot the plant in rich soil or top off the soil with extra organic matter. 

The plant isn’t toxic, but ingesting the leaves may cause digestive distress or vomiting. 

Keep children and pets away from the plant.

Suggested Selaginella Pulcherrima Uses

As these plants need tropical conditions, it grows best in containers or boxes kept indoors near a windowsill

It also works well as a ground cover, as the cushion-like creeping stems slowly spread and never reach more than a few inches tall.

Spike moss typically comes in pots from nurseries, as it doesn’t grow from seed. 

Avoid any plants with brown or yellow patches, as the discoloration indicates the plant suffered from drought at some point. 

Healthy plants should have glossy, green leaves. 

It can survive freezing temperatures outdoors but requires rich soil to hold more moisture. 

Using taller plants to provide shade will help the spike moss retain more water.