• Mosses, Liverworts, & Hornworts
  • Developed early in evolutionary time
  • Small, non-vascular, non-woody plants
  • No root system. Have rhizoids – root-like structures that attach plant to a surface
  • No flowers or seeds. Reproduce sexually through spores or vegetatively
  • Designed to acquire & hold water, which is absorbed through the leaves


  • Leaves are usually arranged spirally around the plant stem
  • Grow on soil, rocks, decaying wood, & tree trunks
  • Three types – Acrocarpus,  Pleurocarpus, & Sphagnum

ACROCARPUS MOSSES – from acro for tip & carpo for fruit

  • Stem – Simple. Rarely forked. Usually upright
  • Grow in tufts or cushions
  • Sporophytes grow from tip of stem

Atrichum – from a for without & trich for hairs

  • Common name: Star Moss
  • Grows on soil & rocks in wet areas, streamside
  • Dark green lance-shaped leaves with distinct mid-rib (costa); translucent on the edges
  • Gemmae (splash) cups on male plants
  • Usually shorter than Polytrichum
  • A. angustatum, less than 1″ tall, grows on dry, bare, nutrient-poor soil
  • A. undulatum, up to 2″ tall, grows on shady damp soil

Aulacomnium palastre – from aulaco for furrowed or grooved

  • Common name: Ribbed Bog Moss
  • Grows in bogs & on seepy rocks
  • Small yellow-green lance-shaped leaves
  • Aulacomnium palustre leaves decrease in size toward the tip. Often have gemmae cups at the end

Bartramia pomiformis – from Bartramia for American botanist, horticulturist, & explorer John Bartram & pomum for apple

  • Common name:  Apple Moss
  • Grows on soil banks & partially shaded rock outcrops
  • Medium green hair-like leaves may appear to grow in one direction
  • Distinctive green apple-shaped sporophytes

Dicranum – from dicran for pitchfork

  • Common name: Windswept or Broom Moss
  • Grows in thick mats on soil, rock, logs
  • Leaves long & narrow, often folded inward, typically curved & aligned giving a windswept appearance
  • Stems often tightly packed
  • D. scoparium has falcate-secund leaves (curled to one side and aligned).
  • D. fulvum (from fulvus for tawny, yellowish-brown) is a small, short Dicranum that grows on rocks

Fissidens for “split teeth”

  • Common name: Pocket Moss
  • Not true to acrocarpus type
  • Leaves pointed, not lobed
  • Leaf base has 2 blades that seem to make a pocket for the leaf above & collects water
  • Leaves in 2 distinct rows, not spiraled around the stem
  • Sporophyte not at tip of plant

Leucobryum – from leuk for white & bryo for moss

  • Common name: Cushion Moss
  • Grows on soil, rocks, tree bases. Common along trails
  • Tightly packed stems form tufts (pin cushion shape)
  • Lance-shaped leaves – greenish when wet, white when dry
  • Upper leaf edges rolled into a tubular needle-like shape; acts as a trough
  • No costa
  • Vegetatively reproduce from stems that break off; seldom produce spore capsules

Mnium hornum – from mnium for moss & hornus for the current year

  • Frequently found along streams or seeps
  • Mnium species have double teeth along the leaf edge as opposed to
    Plagiomnium that have single teeth
  • Upright plants with translucent leaves
  • Mnium hornum – Leaves have double-toothed margins, twist when dry

Plagiomnium – from mnium for moss & plagio for sides

  • Common name: Saber Tooth or Baby Tooth Moss
  • Grows in wet areas, rocky seeps, & streamsides
  • Light green, oval, translucent leavesStems: some trail like vines, others stand upright
  • On stolen-like stems, leaves are sparsely spaced
  • On upright stems, leaves are clustered in a rosette
  • Plagiomnium ciliare – Leaves have single-toothed margins

Polytrichum – from poly for many & trich for hairs

  • Common name: Haircap Moss
  • Grows on soil in open areas
  • 2 – 6″ tall
  • Dark green lance-shaped leaves circle stem; spread outward at 90° when wet
  • Midrib fills leaf blade making blade opaque (compare to Atrichum)
  • Hairy cap on capsule
  • Dioecious – separate male and female plants
  • Prominent gemmae cups on male plants

Rhodobryum – from rhodo for rose & bryo for moss

  • Common name: Rose Moss
  • All leaves clustered in a floral-like rosette at top of stem
  • Lower part of stem is bare
  • Upright stems are connected by underground horizontal stems, forming patches
  • Male & female plants in separate patches; males have black sperm-producing organs in rosettes
  • After fertilization, female plants develop one or more sporophytes on a stem
  • Spores are rare, so new clumps are rare

Tetraphis pellucida – from tetra for four & lucida for glossy, clear or shining

  • Common name: Four-tooth Moss
  • Grows on rotten logs & tree stumps
  • Short, dark green clumps with numerous sporophytes & gemmae cups
  • Distinct slender 2-3 mm cylindrical capsules on red-orange stalks (setae)

PLEUROCARPUS MOSSES – from pleuro for side & carpo for fruit

  • Stems – Branched, creeping, & intertwined
  • Grow in twisted/tangled mats, often with more than one kind together
  • Sporophytes grow from the side of the stem

Anomodon – from anomal for irregular & odon for teeth

  • Common names: Apron,Poodle, or Tree-skirt Moss
  • Grows at base of trees
  • Branches droop down, looking like little cylinders
  • When dry, branches get twisted & tangled


Bryoandersonia illecebra – from bryo for moss & andersonia for Duke University bryologist & author, Lewis Edward “Andy” Anderson, & illecebrosus for seductive

  • Common names: Worm Moss, Spoon Moss, Cup Moss
  • Branches are cylindrical and plump
  • Leaves broadly concave & spoon-shaped; very crowded & overlapping; shiny & sometimes golden in color
  • Clumps are often cushion-like


Climacium americanum

  • Common name: (Palm) Tree Moss
  • Large (2-3″ tall) and tree-like in appearance
  • Stems grow horizontally underground
  • Sporophyes rare; spreads vegetatively


Entodon – from ento for within and odon for teeth

  • Common name: Glaze Moss
  • Has a glossy appearance
  • Leaves densely crowded & overlapping on stem
  • Grows flat & tight to rough surfaces
  • Does not need leaf litter or soil

Forsstroemia trichomitria – from forsstroe for Swedish naturalist, Johan Erik Forsström

  • Common name: Fan Moss
  • Grows on bark of mature trees
  • Leaves ovate, cupped, & densely packed
  • Stems grow outward with branched upward curved tips
  • Sporophytes light brown on short stalks almost hidden by the leaves



Hedwigia ciliata – from Hedwigia for German bryologist, Johann  Hedwig & ciliatus for fringed or with hairs extending from an edge

  • Common name: Medusa Moss
  • Grows on sunny or shady rocks
  • When dry, dull gray-green & stringy; when wet, yellow-green & bushy
  • Leaves are ovate, cupped, & densely packed
  • Stems grow outward & upward

Hylocomium splendens – from hyle for forest or wood matter, kommotes for beautifier, and splendens for glittering or splendid

  • Common name: Stair-step Moss; Splendid Feather Moss
  • Grows at higher elevations (or latitudes) on soil, humus, rotten logs, rocks
  • Leaves olive green & fern-like.
  • Has a unique growth form. Each year’s growth arises on the back of the previous year’s growth creating a step-like appearance
  • Rust colored, stubby cylindrical capsules bend to horizontal

Hypnum – from hypnum for sleep (Hypnum moss was believed to have medicinal properties)

  • Common name: Feather Moss
  • Grows on logs. Often called Log Moss
  • Stems branch twice – divided like a feather
  • Leaves lack a mid-rib
  • Leaves are curved, sometimes nearly circular


Leucodon – from leuko for white and odon for pale peristome teeth (the fringe of small projections around the mouth of a capsule in mosses)

  • Common name: Hook Moss
  • Grows on bark of mature trees
  • Stems grow outward with upward curved tips. Rarely branched
  • Sporophytes light brown on short stalks extending just beyond the leaves

Loeskeobryum brevirostre – from Loeske for German bryologist, Leopold Loeske, bryo for moss, & brevirostra for short-beaked

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



  • Common Name:  Train Track Moss
  • Grows on tree trunks
  • Cylindrical branches on each side of main stem
  • Pinnate – i.e. twice branched, like Hypnum
  • Has dense brown fuzz

Thuidium – from thuja for its resemblance to the branching of cedar trees

  • Common name: Fern Moss
  • Grows on logs, tree bases, & ground
  • Stem branches divided three times.
  • Looks like a lacy fern
  • Color depends on season & exposure to sunlight
  • Tends to invade other mosses; often matted with Hypnum

Ulota crispa  – from oulous meaning curly or twisted, &  crispa meaning curled

  • Common name: Tuft Moss
  • Leafy shoots form dark green rounded tufts on tree trunks
  • Small clumps, from size of a nickel to a quarter
  • Leaves strongly curled or contorted
  • New capsule has hairy cap; old capsule looks wrinkled


SPHAGNUM MOSSES – from “bog moss”

  • Common name: Peat Moss
  • There are more than 100 species of Sphagnum in North America
  • Usually recognized by its habitat: bogs, swamps, lakes, & wet depressions in woods
  • Grows in large mats
  • Cushion-like in wet areas
  • Distinctive terminal head with branches that look like mop head


  • Two types – leafy & thallose
  • Most grow in damp or wet places


  • Creeping flattened plants with a row of overlapping leaves
  • Have stems & leaves
  • Leaves do not have mid-ribs (costa); if there are points there are 2 or more per leaf
  • Leaves are arranged in 2 rows, unlike mosses where leaves are arranged spirally

Bazzania trilobata – from Bazzania for Italian naturalist, Matteo Bazzani, & triloba for 3 lobes

  • Common name: Millipede Weed
  • Grows on rotting wood & soil
  • Elliptical tightly overlapping leaves hide stem
  • Bazzania trilobata has 3 teeth at the leaf tip
  • Look for tiny flagellate branches
  • Forms dense mats

Frullania – from Frullania for Italian statesman, Leonardo Frullani

  • Common name: Tree Liverwort
  • Grows high on trees
  • Leaves – small, circular, overlapping, blackish
  • Forms dark patches on tree trunks and branches
  • Unlike most bryophytes, can tolerate dry conditions
  • Could be confused with lichens

Scapania – from scapan for shovel

  • Common name: Leafy Liverwort
  • Grows on seepy rocks & moist soil
  • Overlapping rounded leaves
  • Leaves have 2 lobes with the smaller lobe folded over the larger
  • Variable in size & colors – light green in shade; reddish purple in sun
  • Brown or green gemmae often found at tips of shoots
  • Scapania nemorea has toothed leaf margins




  • Flat & fleshy, forking into two branches
  • Ribbon- or sheet-like, lacking stems or leaves

Conocephalum salebrosum – from conus for cone & cephal for head, & salebrosus for rough

  • Common name: Skin Liverwort, Cat’s Tongue Liverwort, Snakeskin Liverwort
  • Grows on soil or rocks by streams & seeps
  • Forms large, flat, thick, leathery slabs, up to 0.75″ x 8″
  • Dark green thallus with polygonal design – resembles snakeskin
  • Fragrant when crushed
  • Dioecious – separate male & female plants

Pallavicinia lyellii – from Pallavicinia, probably for Italian statesman and archbishop, Lazzaro Pallavicino, & lyellii for Scottish botanist, Charles Lyell

  • Grows on rotten wood and rocks along streams and seeps
  • 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


Pellia – from Pellia for Italian lawyer, (Pietro) Leopoldo Pelli-Fabbroni

  • Grows along streams and seeps
  • Thallus lobes dark to light green with no markings; undulating along the edges
  • Size – less than 0.5″ x 2″
  • Turns red in sun
  • Frequent spores in Spring
  • Monoecious

Modified from text by Bonnie Arbuckle & Betty Jones. Photography by Ken Borgfeldt, Alice Greko, David Heavner, Penny Longhurst, & Jim Poling


Paul G. Davison: A Trailside Guide to Mosses and Liverworts of the Cherokee National Forest. Blurb (2008).
Gledhill, David : The Names of Plants. Cambridge University Press; 4th Edition, 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).
Island Heritage Trust Preserves – Learning Our Mosses