Mosses & liverworts

I have long had a fascination for bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), which was fuelled by being appointed team-leader of a survey of riverside vegetation in Central Wales in 1982. In the upper reaches of the river Wye mosses become prominent - indeed are the major component of the vegetation, representing 'mini-forests' for a vast amount of animal life including insect larvae within rivers and streams. I was fortunate to have Alan Orange in the team of surveyors for that project. He was an exceptional young bryologist at that time, greater enhancing the quality of moss and liverwort aspects of the survey. He is currently Honorary Research Fellow at the National Museum of Wales, at Cardiff.

It is my hope that this section of the web-site might encourage a few of you to inspect more closely the 'world' of mosses and liverworts which most of us miss altogether. A hands lens helps as does a good macro-facility on your camera and then a binocular microscope to examine specimens further. With a bit of luck you will then be hooked, so invest in a higher-powered microscope! Before that you will have joined the British Bryological Society and started to attend field meetings where you can quickly learn from friendly experts. As with the Botanical Society of the British Isles, beginners are welcomed - after all, that his how we all began!

Churchyard in Bicester, Oxon, March 2016

HOMALOTHECIUM SERICEUM - note the long, creeping stems, firmly attached and sending up regular tufted shoots

Very common on concrete and particularly limestone in churchyards

This moss was identified by John Norton, vice-county recorder for South Hants, British Bryological Society and fellow Biology graduate from the University of Southampton; it was my recommendation which brought him in as the sixth and final member of the university expedition to Ladakh in 1980; John pointed out that the small patch (middle bottom of image) of the cushion moss with long white hair-points is GRIMMIA PULVINATA.

It is also common on trees with base-rich bark ('Ash'[FRAXINUS EXCELSIOR] and 'Elder'[SAMBUCUS NIGRA])

Iver Heath Fields, Buckinghamshire, late March 2016

Bus-stop for the service into Slough from Heathrow

I often catch the above service from a stop just cross the road, outside the Langley Leisure Centre. Annoyingly, two buses which were due, failed to appear one day. To help pass the time, I looked around to see what I might photograph. I went and inspected a nearby brick-wall. See below (for lichens see at bottom of this page - will need a separate lichen page shortly.....).

Visit to Upper Inhams Copse

John Norton, with whom I studied at the University of Southampton took me to the above site, a Hants & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust reserve near Mortimer in early May. He spent the following morning identifying the specimens he observed, in his capacity as botanical recorder for the vice-county of South Hants, for the Bryological Society of the British Isles. He also spotted some typing errors - I am ALWAYS in need of a good proof-reader. Such aspects have never been my forte!

Tree trunks are often a rich habitat for mosses

John considers the two images above and two below are of HYPNUM CUPRESSIFORME, mixed with other things on the tree trunk.

Known as the 'Cypress-leaved Plait-Moss'.

It is a widespread and abundant moss, very common on acidic to slightly base-rich bark and siliceous rock.

'Greater Fork Moss' (DICRANUM MAJUS) - a Western British species of acidic oakwoods, which is rather thinly scattered across southern England, so quite a nice find.

A large and handsome species, often forming extensive, lax patches - so prominent and thus not likely to be overlooked, which is often the case for non-bryologists who do not have their "eye in" for promising habitats and smaller species.

The very long leaves are characteristically and uniformly curved (sometimes described as scimitar-shaped. Most likely to be confused with 'Dicranum scoparium' (DICRANUM SCOPARIUM). D.MAJUS is a larger plant with longer, regularly curved leaves.

'Bank Hair Cap Moss' - typical of deciduous woodlands in the lowlands, on soils from strongly acidic to nearly neutral but most frequent where mildly acidic. Grows in loose tufts.

POLYTRICHUM FORMOSUM (strictly speaking it is now POLYTRICHIASTRUM FORMOSUM - see bryophyte names keep changing, just as those of flowering plants do).

Frequent and widespread throughout the UK - could be confused with stunted specimens of the usually taller POLYTRICHUM COMMUNE (see image below). Straight leaves

Capsules of 'Hair Moss' (POLYTRICHUM COMMUNE) in Central Wales - which has more cubic, 4-angled capsules on longer seta (not that you can from this photo, due to covering)

A SHAGNUM moss growing in a damp hollow beside a stream in Hampshire woodland

Sphagnums are difficult to identify. This one is being held by John Norton. He is confident it is SPHAGNUM DENTICULATUM known as 'Cow-horn Bog-moss'

According to John the key feature is the slightly curved, smooth branches, commonly referred to as 'cow-horns', though most in my photos do NOT exhibit this very well. It is sometimes ochre-coloured.

Found in boggy pools, acidic flushes, springs, ditches and irrigated rock slabs.

Check out the British Bryological Society site for this species (or any others illustrated). How fortunate we are these days in such excellent resources available free on the internet. It was much harder in the 1980s when I started to examine mosses more closely:

SPHAGNUM providing habitat for Sundews (DROSERA ROTUNDIFOLIA) in a Welsh bog

Chris Chadwell on Borth Bog in Central Wales - home the SPAGNUM above (Photo: © John Norton)

I recommend the Mosses & Liverworts section of NATURE SPOT - Recording the Wildlife of Leicestershire and Rutland: as a good starting point/photographic reference for bryophytes found at lower levels in the UK.

Anyone wishing to take a serious interest in bryophytes MUST join the British Bryological Society see:

Those who appreciate fine photography should check out the outstanding close-up images of taken by consultant bryologist Dr Des Callaghan, see:

MY GARDEN (April 2015)

My initial thoughts were that mosses were few-and-far-between in my garden, so close to a busy road (at times almost approaching a 'dual-carriageway') but I then remembered the garage (which has never been used for my wife's car) and its corrugated 'asbestos' roof. As you can see, this material has proven an excellent substrate for bryophytes (and lichens), aided by small branches and leaves which have fallen from the CELTIS AUSTRALIS tree which overhangs a substantial part of the roof. No doubt many would be aghast at the 'state' of the roof but unquestionably this environment supports rich invertebrate life, so I have created a miniature nature reserve.

My garage roof - an abundance of mosses

'Hedgehog Moss' or the 'Grey-cushioned Grimmia'

(GRIMMIA PULVINATA) - according to the website recommended above, this is the commonest Grimmia, forming round, almost furry, grey cushions; and important character is the leaf-tip which is abruptly contracted into a long hair-point, which may be almost as long as the leaf blade; it favours base-rich rocks in lowlands; tolerating moderate pollution it is a characteristic urban and suburban species, growing on wall tops, mortar, tombstones, asbestos roofs, and concrete and a typical member of the 'wall community'

Narrow leaves

When dry, the leaves fold together, resulting in the long silvery hair points loosely entwining being particularly eye-catching. The oval capsules usually abound, bending back into the cushion on arching stalks.


'Intermediate Screw-moss' (SYNTRICHIA INTERMEDIA) - grows in tufts or loose cushions; capsules are cylindrical and erect, ripening to reddish-brown, frequently produced in spring and summer; when dry the leaves are spirally twisted or incurved, giving a distinctive appearance; the nerve projects from the leaf tip into a long silvery white hair point; typical habitats include roofs, calcareous rocks, walls and sunny, exposed, stony ground

Leaves spread out widely from the stem when moist; stout, prominent red-brown nerves


Operating off a tight budget, I was able to obtain, in the 1980s, two microscopes at a very reasonable price, thanks to the advice of the late Simon Hill, who led the fungus forays for Iver & District Countryside Association (see: )

My small and modest camera works wonders with close-ups of most flowering plants - though a few, particularly those whose flowers/floral parts 'stick-out' at strange angles, confuse and defeat the focussing system (e.g. have yet to photograph INDIGOFERA HETERANTHA to my satisfaction). This seems also to be the case with certain mosses, though I am a complete novice with bryophyte photography. Given mosses look good during the autumn and winter months, they can be a focus of my attention during the 'barren' months flowering-plant-wise - just as I enjoyed photographing fungi seriously in autumn 2014. Though there are always aspects of flowering plants to be noticed at any months. Have always liked drawing attention to things other people do not normally notice......


LICHENS (I don't have a separate page for these yet)

Brightly XANTHORIA PARIETINA lichen on my garage roof. Found on rocks, cement, tiled roofs and tree bark, particularly where bird droppings fall. A very pollution tolerant.

Top of brick-wall near local bus-stop

Tree-trunk near local bus-stop