• Small, non-vascular, non-woody plants
  • Usually spore producing
  • Designed to acquire & hold water
  • Developed early in evolutionary time


  • Leaves are arranged spirally around the plant stem
  • Grow on soil, rocks, decaying wood, & tree trunks


  • Stem – Simple. Rarely forked. Usually upright
  • Sporophyte from tip of stem
  • Grow in cushions


  • Dark green lance-shaped leaves with distinct mid-rib (costa)
  • Resembles pine seedlings
  • Usually shorter than Polytrichum
  • Grows on soil & rocks in wet areas, streamside




  • Small yellow-green lance-shaped leaves
  • Aulacomnium palustre leaves decrease in size toward the tip. Often have gemma cups at the end
  • Grows in bogs & on seepy rocks

Bartramia pomiformis

  • Medium green hair-like leaves may appear to grow in one direction
  • Distinctive green apple-shaped sporophyte (called Apple Moss)
  • Grows on soil banks & partially shaded rock outcrops




  • Broom mosses
  • Leaves long, narrow, often folded inward, curled
  • Grows in thick mats on soil, rock, logs
  • D. scoparium has falcate-secund leaves (curled to one side and aligned).
  • Called Windswept Moss.



  • Lance-shaped whitish-green leaves
  • No costa
  • Grows on soil, rocks, tree bases. Common along trails
  • Pin cushion shape





  • Light green oval translucent leaves
  • Grow in wet areas, rocky seeps, & streamside
  • Mnium hornum – Leaves have double-toothed margins, twist when dry
  • Plagiomnium ciliare – Leaves have single toothed margins



  • Dark green lance-shaped leaves circle stem
  • Resembles pine seedlings
  • Hairy cap on capsule (called Hair Cap Moss)
  • Grows on soil in open areas


Tetraphis pellucida

  • Short, dark green clumps with numerous sporophytes and gemma cups
  • Distinct slender 2-3 mm cylindrical capsules on red-orange stalks (setae)
  • Grows on rotten logs & tree stumps


  • Stems – Branched, creeping, & intertwined
  • Sporophytes along branch of main stem
  • Grow in twisted mats, often with more than one kind together


  • Stems branch twice – divided like a feather
  • Grows on logs. Often called Log Moss





  • Stem branches divided three times. Looks like a lacy fern
  • Grows on logs, tree bases, and ground.
  • Often matted with Hypnum



Forrstroemia trichomitria

  • Stems branch with upward curved tips
  • Sporophytes light brown on short stalks almost hidden by the leaves
  • Grows on tree trunks






Loeskeobryum brevirostre

  • Large, shaggy yellow-green moss with red stems
  • Grows on soil, rotten wood, & rocks
  • Found in hardwood forests of southern Appalachians, ravines, & along streams



  • Creeping flattened plants with a row of overlapping leaves
  • No costa


  • Elliptical overlapping leaves hide stem
  • Bazzania trilobata has 3 teeth at the leaf tip
  • Grows on rotting wood & soil
  • Forms dense mats




  • Overlapping rounded leaves
  • Variable in size & colors – light green in shade; reddish purple in sun
  • Brown or green gemmae at tips of shoots
  • Scapania nemorea has toothed leaf margins
  • Grows on seepy rocks & moist soil






  • Leaves – small, circular, overlapping, blackish
  • Forms dark patches on tree trunks and branches
  • Could be confused with lichen


  • Flat & fleshy, forking into two branches or ribbon-like

Conocephalum salebrosum

  • Thick, leathery, dark green thallus with polygonal design – resembles snakeskin
  • Fragrant when crushed
  • Grows on soil or rocks by streams & seeps



Pallavicinia lyellii

  • Translucent ribbon-like thallus with midrib
  • Male plants have 2 rows of flaps on midrib
  • Female plants have cylindrical capsule on midrib
  • Grows on rotten wood and rocks along streams and seeps

Text by Bonnie Arbuckle. Photography by Ken Borgfeldt, Alice Greko, Penny Longhurst, & Jim Poling


Paul G. Davison: A Trailside Guide to Mosses and Liverworts of the Cherokee National Forest. Blurb (2008).
Karl B McKnight, Joseph R. Rohrer, Kirsten McKnight Ward, & Warren J. Perdrizet: Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians (Princeton Field Guides). Princeton University Press (2013).
Ralph Pope : Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast. Comstock Publishing Associates (2016).