Missouri Mosses

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Published on: Aug. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

is erect. Acrocarps grow upward from the ground as a single stem and have little or no branching. Dendroids are composed of the few mosses that resemble a small tree. Although you may need a microscope to differentiate between many of the mosses, some of Missouri's more common species can be easily recognized. Fern mosses (in the genus Thuidium), for example, often form thick, luxurious mats of moderately large branches resembling the fronds of a fern. They live in open, sunny places, as well as in moist, shaded areas.

Windswept moss (Dicranum scoparium) is frequently seen on ridges, wooded slopes and rock ledges. It forms thick mats of pale green tufts that look somewhat like tall, waving grass when viewed from a low-flying plane. This attractive moss is commonly used in moss gardens in Japan. Pin-cushion moss (in the genus Leucobryum) forms white-green, dense, spongy, cushionlike tufts, sometimes reaching a foot in diameter. It is usually found on the rocky soil of ridges, but may also grow on rock ledges and near tree bases.

One of the few peat mosses of Missouri, Sphagnum subsecundum grows on soil at the edges of creeks and streams, particularly in the southeastern quarter of the state. The plants are erect and whitish or bright green, often tinged with purple, pink, red or brown. The branches occur in groups called fascicles and are frequently most densely crowded toward the top of the stem.

Sphagnum mosses flourish in wetland areas and are able to lower the pH in these habitats. Decomposing organisms cannot thrive in the acidic environment, so partly decayed organic material builds up over time, forming peat. The process of peat formation usually takes place in regions cooler than Missouri, however.

One of the two dendroid mosses of Missouri, pine moss (Climacium americanum) can be found throughout the state on moist, shaded soil, usually on ledges and at the bases of bluffs. The pine moss's tree-like growth habit is unlike any other species in this habitat.

It's fun to study the mosses. If you collect them, take only small samples that you can place in small bags or envelopes to dry. Do not collect on public or private lands without permission, and refrain from disturbing small populations or endangered species.

Several publications can help the amateur collector with moss identification. Thomas and Jackson's "Walk Softly Upon the Earth," Conrad's "How to Know the Mosses and Liverworts," and Redfearn's "Mosses of the Interior Highlands of North America" are all good reference books. The Ozarks Regional Herbarium at the Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield or the Crosby Bryophyte Herbarium of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis may be able to help you identify particularly difficult species.

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