A new monograph of the lycopodiophytes (forkheads) of Poland. Fork class under the magnifying glass of scientists


It will soon be 80 years since all forbs found in Poland were placed under strict species protection. Meanwhile, Easter still remains a dangerous time for these evergreens. Also associated with these holidays are the so-called “Christmas”. Resurrection (resurrection) plants, which include some tropical forbs. A monograph has just been published Lycopodiophytes of Poland. Lycopodiales, Selaginellales, Isoëtales edited by prof. Elizabeth Zenkteler, Ph. Edyta M. Gola and Dr. Ewa Szczęśniak. This is a good opportunity to take a look at this sparse in the Polish flora and relatively poorly known group of plants.

Living fossils. Pitchforks and modern climate change

Both pitchforks and forkbeards are included in the so-called “forkbeards”. Lycopodiophytes, or Lycopodiopsida forkheads. It is the oldest of the evolutionary lineages of vascular plants, formerly known as vascular plants, that have survived to this day. They are living fossils, and studies of their modern specimens provide a better understanding of the evolution of land plants, including the colonization of dry areas, the emergence of the first forests and the history of coal seams.

Lycopodiophytes were the dominant group of terrestrial plants in the Carboniferous. Burning their fossilized remains has been the flywheel of the global economy, also contributing to climate change, unfortunately. Burning hard coal is becoming not only an anachronism, but also wasteful. The production of steel and cast iron requires coal, and without them, there will be no tools, machines and buildings necessary to sustain our civilization or its transformation to a closed-loop economy.

The water affairs of forkheads

In all lycopodiophytes (as, incidentally, in the bryophytes confused with them, as well as in the horsetails and ferns formerly combined into a common class with the forbs), sexual reproduction remains water-dependent. Sperm can flow to the egg cells only when the foregut (gametophyte, sexual generation) is covered with water, e.g.: after rain or in thick fog.

Also, the diploid generation (sporophytes) of most lycopodiophytes, better known to us, is sometimes strongly dependent on water. Such, for example, leopards are plants even underwater, in Europe characteristic of the so-called “underwater”. lobelia lakes with very clear, nutrient-poor water. From the Latin name of porbines (Isoëtes L.) comes the professional name of the entire ecophysiological group of isoetids – plants unrelated to each other, but resembling each other through evolution converging in morphology (shapes), physiology, habitat requirements, and thus extinction mechanisms.

Forkbeards proper are often associated with habitats that are at least periodically moist, such as mist forests, meadows (crowfoot) or post-morph pits (forkbeard). Pitchforks are found in the most diverse environments all over the Earth, except in the ice deserts of Antarctica. Most, however, prefer sub-equatorial rainforests or mist forests.

Better late than never!

The aforementioned forkhead monograph was published as a special issue of the Polish Botanical Society’s journal Monografiae Botanicae and can be obtained free of charge from the repository of the Polish Botanical Society. This is a work that Polish science and didactics have needed for a long time. We finally got an up-to-date systematics of the Lycopodiopsida, as well as the latest information on their ecology and biochemistry. The monograph includes an up-to-date listing of species native to Poland and four more that have established themselves in our neighbors (so very likely to be found here as well).

It is also the original keys to the determination of forkheads and extensive characterizations of lycopodiophytes, covering their entire morphology, distribution worldwide and in Poland (range maps), habitat preferences, ecology, degree of extinction threat, effectiveness of previous forms of protection, and finally an overview of uses in academic and folk medicine. Particularly noteworthy are the beautiful photographs of live and herbarium specimens, as well as their habitats.

Why do we need monographs?

Someone may ask why such a descriptive work, the preparation of which cost a lot of effort and time of the staff of several scientific centers, should be created at all. After all, it will bring fewer points than a couple of articles in reputable scientific journals. Well, the pain of Polish botany, pure and applied, was the lack of modern keys for taxonomic identification. Until now, in order to learn more about spore-bearing vascular plants, including forkheads, one had to reach for the first volume of the Flora of Poland compiled by Marian Raciborski and published in 1919.

The keys to Polish Plants, edited by Władysław Szafer, Stanisław Kulczyński and Bogumił Pawłowski, which were published a couple of times between 1953 and 1988, were somewhat outdated by the time they were published. This is because they kept describing the flora within the borders of the Second and even the First Republic, leaving out a number of species native to the Western and Northern Territories. Lucjan Rutkowski’s more modern Key to the Identification of Vascular Plants of Lowland Poland , which is still useful today, published from 1998 to 2022, was limited, as the title indicates, to the lowlands of our country. And yet it is the mountains and highlands that are richest in various species, including lycopodiophytes!

Started in the 1990s. Last century, the era of molecular biology strongly changed our ideas about the evolution of vascular spore plants, including verification of the occurrence and diversity of individual species and their hybrids. Although the Polish and world floras count very few species of lycopodiophytes, this group provides plenty of examples to support the thesis that a new, modernized monograph is needed.

The confluence of several important anniversaries for botany, such as the centennial of the publication of the Flora of Poland after independence (2019), the centennial of the publication of the first volume of the Flora of Poland on ferns (also 2019), the centennial of the founding of the Polish Botanical Society (2022) and the sixtieth convention of its members planned for April 2025. inspired members of PTB’s Pteridology Section to work on more monographs of plants, this time those formerly classified as ferns. What changes will the new work bring? Will the flowers of ferns known for their blistering grasslands (carnation and suspicion) make their way to psyllids?

In the article, I used, among other things. From the works:

  1. Raciborski M., Szafer W. (eds.) (1919). Flora Poland. Vascular plants of Poland and neighboring lands. Volume I: Ferns, conifers and monocotyledons, Cracow: Nakładem Akademii Umiejętności, pp. 427.
  2. Rutkowski L. (1998-2022). Key to the identification of vascular plants of Lowland Poland. PWN Scientific Publishers, Warsaw.
  3. Szafer W., Kulczyński S., Pawłowski B. (1924). Plants of Poland. Bookstore Atlas, Lviv, Warsaw.
  4. Szafer W., Kulczyński S., Pawłowski B. (1953-1988). Plants of Poland. T. 1. PWN, Warsaw.
  5. Szczęśniak E. (2008). Endangered, expansive and invasive species in pteridoflora of the Lower Silesia. In E. Szczęśniak, & E. Gola (Eds.), Club-mosses, horsetails and ferns in Poland – resources and protection (pp. 213-223). Polish Botanical Society & Institute of Plant Biology, University of Wrocław, Wrocław.
  6. Szczęśniak, E., Gola, E. M., & Szypuła, W. (2023). The genus Selaginella P. Beauv. (Selaginellaceae, Lycopodiopsida) in Poland: The occurrence of three species as a result of the historical material verification. Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae, 92(1). https://doi.org/10.5586/asbp/171688
  7. Szczęśniak, E., Gola, E.M., & Zenkteler, E. (eds.) (2023). Lycopodiophytes of Poland – Lycopodiales, Selaginellales, Isoëtales. Monographiae Botanicae 110, Polish Botanical Society, Wrocław-Warsaw.

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