Before we move on.
I would like to point out that you don't have to identify the specimens you find. You can look, admire, perhaps take a photograph, make a few notes then move on. It isn't compulsory to make identifications.
That said, our innate natural curiosity leaves us wanting to know more about something we find and we would not be looking for Bryophytes in the first place if we didn't want to know more about them. Always Just bear in mind that how far you take your interest is always entirely up to you.
Species identification can be relatively easy. It can also be (especially for beginners) quite difficult.
If you have little or no knowledge of Bryophytes, looking at the sheer volume of different species, technical terminology and taxonomic (Latin naming system) terms can be very daunting.
Bryophytes are always referred to initially by their Taxonomic (Greek or Latin) names. They are always indexed by taxonomic name with Common Names often included for information only.
Taxanomic naming alone can sometimes be enough to deter somebody with an interest from going further.
I found Taxonomic names fairly easy to get to grips with. Don't worry about how you pronounce taxonomic names. Unless you can speak Latin or Greek, everybody has their own version. of pronunciation.
Common names often include the name of the Bryologist who discovered the species or refer to a Group such as Bog Moss or Wort (Liverwort), Rock Moss, Forlklet Moss and so on.
If you have a friend with some knowledge of Bryophytes or a local Bryology Group with a keen membership who have experience to help you, your knowledge will soon grow. They often run regular field trips in different habitats widening your appreciation and knowledge as you go along.
It is easy to find it all a bit overwhelming to begin with especially if you visit a woodland similar to the one below - a vast swathe of green almost everywhere
Take your time
See what you find interesting in the mass of green and pick that one. You can't do them all in one go, but you can go back for another look. If somebody is showing you a species, make some notes of the name and location for future reference and try to remember or note down the main identification points.
The more time you take with one species, the easier it will be with the next one. Don't worry if you feel you are not making progress. I have been at it for three years now and although I know I am making progress, there is still a long way for me to go. I am lucky enough to have the time to examine my specimens in depth. You may not have a lot of spare time and may not want to go too deeply into Bryology. It's your choice, as much or as little as suits you.
Experience gained by frequently and closely examining different species gradually makes life a lot easier.
Memory is a really good asset with the ability to recall the form and habitat of previously seen species greatly increasing the speed at which you find identification easier.
Unfortunately, my memory isn't brilliant and I still struggle with identifications. Often I know have seen and identified a species before but the name eludes me. Like most memory things, it will often come back to me out of the blue!
The BBS field guide has an introductory gallery of line drawings for Liverworts, Hornworts, and Mosses. These show the basic form of different species groups. This is followed by a basic Field Key showing various biological features for leaf types and allows the reader to narrow down the features on a specimen to a stage where identification is much easier. Identification keys take a bit of getting used to but can be very helpful.
Without doubt, visiting a site in the company of more experienced Bryologists, both amateur and expert, is by far the best way to gain experience. There is no substitute for being shown different species in their native habitats, learning their individual features and how they vary throughout the seasons.
I have been fortunate enough to spend time in the field with experts who make identifying Bryophytes look very easy. They are always willing to give both their time and knowledge to help you, having spent many years learning what they know. If you are accompanied by somebody with knowledge of mosses, learning is nearly always a much accelerated process. If you are on your own, it is much more difficult to get started which is the main reason this web site was created.
Cushions, Carpets and appearance.
Bryophytes can form colonies of just three or four shoots or can just be an isolated single shoot.
More often you will see domed almost circular colonies of mosses or irregularly-shaped clusters of plants close together or widely spaced. These are generally referred to as 'cushions" of moss
Other colonies can spread over a quite large expanses of grassed area and other substrates including old stone walls and flat surfaces. These formations are generally referred to as 'carpets' of moss.
The way in which a colony grows - straggly, compact, scattered, dense and so on, can also be another indicator of what species it might be.
Identification - Where to start?
TIP: If like me you easily forget things it helps a great deal to make a note of your observations at the time.
Still in situ, we have a healthy and dense carpet of moss growing on grass. It has leaves with a star-shaped appearance growing on and with grass. The carpet is fairly compact and regular in form and not that deep. The ground is soft but not boggy and in an urban environment.
So fairly quickly we have established several identification points from the colony.
Substrate - Leaf Shape - size - depth and density - environment
These are basic points everybody can collect without even going near a field guide.
Up Close and Personal
Getting a close-up look at your moss in its own environment is essential. This tells you how it actually looks in 'The Field' and helps you remember this when you later try to identify it away from the habitat.
How you get that closer look depends on the environment and weather. The most common way is to kneel down to within a few inches and use use the naked eye and/or a magnifier. You will then see features not very visible from even a short distance away.
Viewing your specimen in full light is often much more convenient and efficient. I prefer to select a single shoot or a small cluster of shoots by carefully probing down into the colony with finger and thumb and lightly holding the shoot/s. The selection can then be gently 'teased' out of the colony.
You can now hold it up in full daylight to look at it in much more detail. This also allows you to precisely measure the length and width of the shoot/s for scale, make a sketch or take a photograph.
Unless you are collecting a sample, the cluster of moss you have removed from the colony can easily be replaced by making an indentation with your fingers (about the length of the shoot) at or close to where it came from. Replace the shoot/s in this and gently compress around them to ensure the wind doesn't blow the shoots away. In thui way, you have had a really close look at your specimen without harming the colony.
Your particular carpet of moss, like many others, may well have developed from a single fertile spore. The spore would in turn grown into a new Gametophyte which in turn produced more spores followed by new plants in the same location. Over time a colony will expand and become a carpet or large cushion. Clusters like this then form the basis of the entire carpets/cushions which develops over time.
It is also worth remembering that a colony can be just a few plants and neither a carpet or a cushion. A few very rare species of Bryophytes only number a very few plants in one or two locations.
It is worth remembering that the images you see below are of very clean specimens which have been washed. Most wet specimens in the field will be muddy around their shaded shoots and Rhizoids. They will also more than likely have their own resident invertebrates busily foraging amongst the stems.
The next imageshows you what your sample will look like when removed from the colony - it may well be muddy and much wetter than this one!
A closer look tells us that this is a pleurocarpous species with multiple branches growing off the stems
The next image shows you what the main component parts of the specimen are.
A closer look at individual shoots in the next image shows how the leaves are curved out and down from the branches.
The shoots have a red colour where the leaves are still green, changing to a reddish-orange where they are in the shaded area if the colony.
Finally Rhizoids are growing out from the stems towards the end of the shoots.
Several species have smaller branch leaves than those on the main stem and the main stem leaves often differ in shape.
Please note that most Bryophytes look considerably different when they are dry.
Next is a close-up image of the tip of a shoot showing the curvature of the leaves and red coloured stem.
Here is a close-up image of
the tip of a shoot.
The next image shows a single stem leaf which is 1300 µm (1.3 mm) in length. You can also see the dentate (toothed) margins, inner and outer surfaces and leaf basal area.
As you can see from the profile image of the leaf in the last image, the margins are incurved and the photograph does not show the central area or inner curve of the leaf where you might find the nerve/costa. This may not even be visible looking down on the leaf. This species has a double nerve but this is only evident at the base of the leaf on the adaxial surface - that is the surface facing the stem.
Next is a microscope image of another leaf from the same sample showing the inner surface of the leaf and the faint double nerve near the base.
Many Bryophyte leaves fold over at the margin, some for part of the leaf's length, some for all of it. The presence or absence of a nerve in a leaf is often a major factor in narrowing down an identification in the field. Nerves can be very variable, sometimes along the entire length of the leaf and often they can grow out of the leaf tip like a white hair and are then described as Excurrent.
Nerves can also be limited to the base of the leaf only. They can also, just to confuse budding Bryologists, sometimes not present at all even when there should be nerves.
Now you have had a much closer look at the components of your specimen you have collected information on the following:
LEAF ARRANGEMENT AT TIP
LEAF FORM AND DISTRIBUTION
DENTATE LEAF MARGINS
STEM AND BRANCH COLOUR
PRESENCE OF A NERVE
Quite a lot of information all gathered fairly easily and you are well on the way to identifying your specimen!
Nearly all identifications start with close examination of features and the gathering of information. These are fairly easy steps unless you want to make an identification in the field. If that is the case, you will almost certainly need to have a Field Guide or identification KEY sheet with you - visit IDENTIFICATION 2 for more information
Oh - I forgot! You want to know what this specimen is?
This specimen is a very common Bryophyte - Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus or Springy Turf-moss
It grows in many places, especially cemeteries and lawns.
This sample was growing on my neighbour's lawn and is in mine too.
It really is springy when you walk on it and so prolific that many lawns have more of this than grass in them!
The 'Star-shaped' leaf tips are also very good identification aid.
So there you are - your first Bryophyte ID.
Get in the habit of gathering the same basic information, write it down, make a sketch or take a photograph and you are on your way.
Collecting a sample is the next step and is dealt with in its own section COLLECTING BRYOPHYTES
DENSITY OF COLONY
COLOURATION OF COLONY