Prickly tree clubmoss (Dendrolycopodium dendroideum) is an erect, evergreen, perennial, low-growing plant that looks like a miniature coniferous tree. It grows in northern forests and in shrubby areas recovering from fire or other disturbance. It often forms large colonies. In Minnesota it is common in the northeast, infrequent in the southeast, and mostly absent from the south and west.
Prickly tree clubmoss is usually no more than 6″ in height and has widely spreading branches. The branches are themselves up to four times branched—most branches have two or more secondary branches (branchlets), those branchlets are usually branched, those branchlets are often branched, and those branchlets are sometimes branched. The stem and branches are densely covered with prickly, needle-like leaves. Each fertile plant has 1 to 7 spore-bearing cones.
Several other Minnesota clubmosses are very similar in appearance. Prickly tree clubmoss is distinguished by lateral branches that are round in cross section, not flattened; stiff, prickly, widely spreading leaves on the lower part of the stem; and leaves on the branches that are all equal in size and arranged in six ranks, 2 above, 2 below, and one on each side.