Adapted from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter of December 11, 2006
issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve,
QUERÉTARO, MÉXICO

A KIDNEY-FIXING SELAGINELLA

Yesterday, exploring a trail leading up the mountain through the scrub I saw a man across the valley wandering along the wooded slope obviously looking for something, occasionally stooping and placing what he'd found into a bag. I had to go see what he was collecting.

The only thing I could see unusual about the spot he'd been in was that here and there thin, stacked layers of slate rock outcropped, and on those rock faces grew a sizable colony of a special kind of Selaginella, probably SELAGINELLA LEPIDOPHYLLA.

Selaginella is a non-flowering, spore-producing, moss- like, branching plant that usually creeps over the ground or climbs things, or is sometimes erect. We have them in the North, especially in moist, protected spots such as at cliff bases, mossy areas next to streams, etc. Most Selaginella species are tropical, though. Selaginellas are their own kind of thing, having their own plant family.

What's special about the Selaginella I found yesterday was that it was so large, made a pretty rosette with its ferny leaves, but dried up into a ball when dry. Then when it's wet again it opens up like a huge, green snowflake. For this reason the plant is often known as the Resurrection Plant. You can see two plants with their tips still expanding outward after a rain we'd just had below:

SELAGINELLA cf LEPIDOPHYLLA

So, why had the fellow been collecting this plant? All over Mexico I see it sold in its dry, balled-up state in "Indian markets" as a medicinal plant, so when I got home I looked up Selaginella lepidophylla in my Las Plantas Medicinales de México and, sure enough, it's regarded as powerful medicine. I translate:

"Dr. Cuevas recommends it against cystitis and irritation of the liver and kidneys, straining out a tea from five or six plants cooked in 700 grams of water, sweetening it, and concentrating it to the consistency of syrup."

In Spanish Selaginella lepidophylla is known as Doradilla.