A few years ago I discovered a most extraordinary Australian native plant thriving  in my Blue Mountains  garden.  Mind you, for some time I did my best to eradicate it. My worry was that exotic pine seedlings  were invading  from the property next door.   It was only during an official check for environmental weeds that I discovered the truth. The inspector said ;  ‘Oh, you’re really lucky; these native plants are so ancient that dinosaurs  once grazed on them!’ . She was appalled when I said I had been ripping them out. Their fossilized remains  are among the oldest ever  found in this country.

Fossilized Lycopodium
Fossilized Lycopodium

The plants are a type of club moss   called Lycopodium. However, my  mistake was understandable because they go by the common name of ground pines, or creeping cypress. Mine only grow to about 10 cm in height, and all in a small woodland area.

One of the little 'pines'.
One of the little ‘pines’.

In the springtime the plants produce decorative,  spore cases like  upright wax candles. If you harvest the cases when they are ‘ripe’  and store them in a container for a few days  the spores  will be released.  You will end up with  a quantity of  ‘magic’  powder.  Now this has many uses.  Parisian dressmakers used to rub it on their hands to prevent spoiling expensive  material with perspiration. It can also be blended with powdered tannin,  talcum powder and essence of  violets to create a fragrant face powder. Hmm, I don’t think I’ll bother with that.

The candle like spores of the plant.
The candle like spores of the plant.
The magic of spotting a new little lycopodim shoot.
Magic Dust
Magic Dust



MATERIALS –  A dish of water, a twenty cent coin, and some lycopodium  powder.

Ensure there is nothing flammable within a 5 metre radius. Submerge the coin in the dish of water.  Next, apply a liberal puff of the ‘magic’ powder to the surface of the water. Finally, reach in slowly and retrieve the coin. When you pull your hand out, the money will be wet, but your hand will be completely dry. Incredible!!

Abracadabra! Perform your own magic trick with lycopodium dust

HOW DOES IT WORK? –  Well, the dried  spores of the plant are very high in fat, and fat repels water. When your hand enters the water  through the powder it’s as though a waterproof glove forms around it. Isn’t that clever?


Here is another experiment using a bowl of water.  Sprinkle the surface with the lycopodium powder, then use powdered charcoal to make a 5 cm  straight line . Place a straight stick on the floor directly parallel to the charcoal mark. Leave the bowl undisturbed for a few hours, then check the position of the black mark in relation to the stick. It will have have moved in the direction opposite to that of the movement of the earth on its axis.   Well that’s just weird.

And if I had a violin I would try this little experiment. Spread some ‘magic powder’ on a metal disk. Draw a violin bow across the rim of the disk then watch the most amazing patterns form.


Even more spectacular is the  way lycopodium powder can be squirted through an open flame to produce  a jet of fire.


For this reason it’s popular at fire dance events.  Appropriately, it is  known as ‘dragon’s breath’.

Fire dance using lycopodium flash powder.
Fire dance using lycopodium flash powder.

I haven’t tried to make the powder (yet), but for me  the little plant is magic in another way. Throw on  a  bit of tinsel and hey presto!….a miniature Christmas tree. 🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄

The magic of a Lycopodium Christmas tree.
A tree of our own

In  conclusion, the versatile lycopodium has some  applications in pharmacy and  alternative medicine.  It was once used by chemists as a dust to prevent tablets sticking together. In homeopathy it is still used to treat a wide range of ailments, from earache to mumps. Good grief…  I’m beginning to think I should cultivate fields of this  little plant!

For another  story  about the beautiful  Blue Mountains, click HERE


  1. Fascinating! Wish I had one.

  2. What an absolutely fascinating plant, although I don’t like to think of you or Editor Des in charge of anything like magic dust! Thank goodness your version only grows to 10 cm otherwise the alternative is a scary thought.

    • Pauline

      Yes, we could decimate the entire Blue Mountains! I think I noticed Rob secretly pulling them out.

  3. I found the plant uses incredible. I’ve never seen it before.


  4. That is so cool! I love learning about native plants and all their “new” uses. Which is funny because they aren’t new at all — native peoples have been using them for all sorts of maladies for hundreds of years. I’ve tried my hand at some homeopathic remedies, but the ones you’ve listed here are just plain fun. 🙂

    Thanks for tips. I can’t wait to get my hands on some of this stuff and WOW my niece and nephew.

  5. The specimen pictured in your garden looks even more spectacular without the decorations. But I can fully see why you decided to decorate it, as it is very conifer-like. A lovely thing. Our species in the UK are creeping and you would be lucky to find a fruiting branch rising to 10cm!

  6. lycopodium was used for many years for waterproofing tents and clothing. It has only one fault the dust can cause an explosive bush fire if they come in contact with a flame.

    • Pauline

      Oh dear me, I can imagine, Des. I will have to add this to the story. Thanks for the info.

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