Selaginella species are creeping or ascendant plants with simple, scale-like leaves (microphylls) on branching stems from which roots also arise. The stems are aerial, horizontally creeping on the substratum (as in Selaginella kraussiana), sub-erect (Selaginella trachyphylla) or erect (as in Selaginella erythropus). The vascular steles are polystelic protosteles. Stem section shows the presence of more than two protosteles. Each stele is made up of diarch (having two strands of xylem) and exarch (growing outward in) xylems. The steles are connected with the cortex by means of many tube-like structures called trabeculae, which are modified endodermal cells with casparian strips on their lateral walls. The stems contain no pith.
In Selaginella, each microphyll and sporophyll has a small scale-like outgrowth called a ligule at the base of the upper surface. The plants are heterosporous with spores of two different size classes, known as megaspores and microspores.
Unusual for the lycopods, which nearly always have microphylls with a single unbranched vein, the microphylls of a few Selaginella species contain a branched vascular trace.
Under dry conditions, some species of Selaginella can survive dehydration. In this state, they may roll up into brown balls and be uprooted, but can rehydrate under moist conditions, become green again and resume growth. This phenomenon is known as poikilohydry, and poikilohydric plants such as Selaginella bryopteris are sometimes referred to as resurrection plants.