Lichens and Mosses

I am getting into lichens. I figured this would happen - they are visually interesting, colorful, and they are remarkably stable compared to birds. But I am stymied by mosses. I am not even clear, really, on what a moss IS. I include here a link to a moss I took a picture of on campus today. Could someone tell me how to best make visual IDs of mosses (just as a Phylum)? And what are the best things to photograph on a moss to increase the chance of being able to ID it. I took the first picture with my macro lens on the iPhone, for instance. Is that a good strategy? Thanks!

@finatic , @dpom , @kueda , @charlie , @sea-kangaroo

Posted on May 03, 2017 06:29 PM by gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon


Photos / Sounds


Mosses (Phylum Bryophyta)




May 3, 2017 08:44 AM PDT


i've barely touched on mosses. I know @erikamitchell is tackling learning them! So she may be able to help more. I think it depends on the moss in question...

Posted by charlie over 6 years ago

Of course! But thanks for the further link.

Posted by gyrrlfalcon over 6 years ago

I find mosses really challenging, b/c species-level ID so often depends on microscopy, particularly for the really tiny ones like this. I guess my general tips are yes, get a macro shot and a habitat shot like you've got here. If at all possible, try to get an isolated shot of a single leaflet, show details of the tip and the presence or absence of a rib running up the middle (the costa). If you can, try to get shots of damp and dry sections of the moss if both are present, b/c some mosses dry into diagnostic shapes, and can even be easier to ID while dry. Always try to include some sense of scale, since there's quite a range.

I'm just a beginner myself, but I think it helps to start with the big stuff, like Dendroalsia abietina, the big, fluffy, Christmas-tree like fern that dangles off of trees in damp areas around here (you've seen it!). Starting with the the weird, tiny, encrusting stuff on bark is sort of like learning all your gull molts before figuring out what a Scrub-Jay is.

The only book we've really got is, which is great, but tough to use as a field guide since it in situ photos for most species. The leaflet images in the back can be quite useful, though.

Posted by kueda over 6 years ago

That book is out-of-print, so I ordered an older one (1975) of mosses of the Pacific coast. Thanks for the link to my own Dendroalsia abietina. Just goes to show what a slow student I am. But getting to know common species is the way of wisdom! Interesting about dry and moist sections making a moss easier to ID. Thanks

Posted by gyrrlfalcon over 6 years ago

Both mosses and lichens are things that I've tried to dabble around with learning only to run away screaming. They are fascinating, but frustrating for a beginner. I look forward to learning from you.

Posted by finatic over 6 years ago

I am not sure why I find them more attractive to learn than basic plants and wildflowers, but I do. It may be because fewer of them are introduced. They feel closer to representing our native flora than flowers! I look forward to making gobs of errors in your presence, @finatic !

Posted by gyrrlfalcon over 6 years ago

i bet there are invasive mosses and people just don't notice or know.

Posted by charlie over 6 years ago

Or, they just don't care? We can change that, of course. Well, maybe.

Posted by gyrrlfalcon over 6 years ago

let's do it!

Posted by charlie over 6 years ago

How to tell a moss from something else? Great question! Mosses have leaves (except when they don't, which isn't very often--but there's always Pogonatum pensylvanicum). And the leaves are attached to stems. And sometimes/often, they have capsules, which are often on visible seta (stalks) above the plant. Some liverworts also have leaves attached to stems, but they're generally smaller than moss leaves and have curious ways of attachment to their stems. They may have stalks, too, but not capsules. Sometimes it can be hard to tell some large leafy liverworts from mosses unless you know them.

For mosses, you need photos of 3 perspectives for photo identification: 1) overall, showing the shape of the clump and what it's growing on; 2) close up showing the leaf shape as attached to the stem, capturing whether there are teeth on the leaf margins and where, the shape of the capsule and any protuberances, how many teeth in the mouth of the capsule and their color (all may visible with a 10x hand lens); and 3) microscopic view showing the shape of the leaf cells, especially where they attach to the stem (usually requires a 40x-100x microscope). For overall shots, you can use a regular phone camera, point-and-shoot, or DSLR with an ordinary lens. For close-ups, you can add a clip-on lens to your camera, use a point-and-shoot in macro mode (it might or might not capture leaf toothing successfully), or a DSLR with a macro lens. For microscopic shots, you need to collect a sample, bring it to a microscope, and shoot through the eyepiece of the microscope (easiest with a point-and-shoot). I'm starting to have some luck using an endoscope microscope in the field for microscopic shots, tethered via USB/OTG to my Android phone. I need to work on my dissection technique though, and remember to carry my #5 dissecting tweezers.

That being said, there are certain common mosses in most areas that are distinctive enough that once you learn them, you can recognize them from 10 feet away, and microscopic shots aren't necessary. Start with them. Start with one large distinctive moss, and look for it everywhere you go. Then add other easy ones to your repertoire. That will help you learn the visual language of mosses, where to look on the plant for details, how to parse the plant's details, like leaf shape and seta color.

After a year of intensive study, I am now a beginner at identification, but getting better. One of my favorite ways of studying is to look at everyone else's moss photos here for any that I might know, or ID at least to class. I've made some whoppers of mistakes, but I am improving--I think. I try to find all the mosses I know well everywhere I go, and also photograph one or two that I don't know for practice at identification.

Posted by erikamitchell over 6 years ago

Invasive mosses? Apparently, there are some. But by their very nature, being spore-spread, mosses go everywhere and grow everywhere they can. At least, that seemed to be the consensus at moss camp last summer. It's been amazing for me to see that unlike trees, which become entirely new to me once I leave New England, mosses seem to be practically the same everywhere, or at least at the same latitudes. Many of the mosses that are common here in New England are also common in Alaska and Sweden. And not because they're invasive--the spores just spread everywhere on the high winds. Of course, there are also many mosses with more restricted local distributions, West Coast mosses, for instance, that we don't have in the East.

Much more study is needed! Starting with more data about global moss distribution. Because mosses are greatly under-reported.

Posted by erikamitchell over 6 years ago

interesting about mosses being the same everywhere, it seems fungi and lichens are often like that too. so i imagine for one to become invasive, barring something from the other hemisphere maybe, it could only happen if the ecosystem was disturbed, a predator went extinct, etc... rather than sending it to a new place.

Posted by charlie over 6 years ago

WOW! This was a great first lesson! I was thinking that the learning-a-few-obvious-species-locally approach would be a solid way to think about it (as Ken-ichi hinted too). I'll check out the most common in San Mateo and Santa Clara county projects, and launch from that. This has been the most informative RFI I've ever launched!

Posted by gyrrlfalcon over 6 years ago

There was a recent Jepson class "Introduction to Bryophytes" by @kkellman

Posted by metsa over 6 years ago

I also find mosses and lichens very difficult, but I have been able to learn to recognize a few (very few) of each -- the most glaringly obvious ones that occur here in NYC. I think it is worth patting yourself on the back if you can recognize a couple of genera of moss or lichen, even if you can 't get them to species level.

What is difficult too, is that currently (this is supposed to change soon) there is no book on NYC mosses, or NYC lichens. Being mostly intensely urban, NYC does not support a vast diversity of either lichens or mosses. It would really help me and a bunch of other urban naturalists, if there were books showing good images (microscopic, regular close-up, and well-lit shots at arm's length) of the 50 most common northeastern urban mosses and lichens, and explaining how to recognize them.

I would also want a book to clearly display the family of each of the mosses or lichens that it shows and lists.

Posted by susanhewitt over 4 years ago

I love @novapatch 's Lichens of New York City project...and I see you do too, @susanhewitt ! Whenever I am in town (even if just passing through the airport) I'm on the search for urban lichens!

Posted by gyrrlfalcon over 4 years ago

@mossgeek may be able to help.

Posted by finatic over 4 years ago

there are great keys here on the west coast of US

Posted by mossgeek over 4 years ago

I learned a lot going on one outing that Nova ran in late winter, but I could really use a few more guided outings like that! And some moss outings!

Posted by susanhewitt over 4 years ago

ya hands on is the best. iv given one lichen hike with CNPS and it was very fruitful. i was planning on giving some workshops on lichens and bryos here since there is such a need for it. there are so many amatures here that are working so hard to learn them. its nice to see!

Posted by mossgeek over 4 years ago

We do try!

Posted by susanhewitt over 4 years ago

The "amateurs here that are working so hard to learn them" is, at least partially, a factor of iNaturalist. I know my love of lichens is a joyous by-product of my iNaturalist addiction.

Posted by gyrrlfalcon over 4 years ago

Me too.

Posted by susanhewitt over 4 years ago

Regarding NYC or other urban areas with more limited floras but many observers, views like these can be helpful as checklists for the local lichens or mosses, in descending order of how common they're observed:

Those are not very helpful for learning to ID but at least they give you a relatively short list of what you might find, which is much smaller than field guides that cover larger regions. Just don't trust all the species that have very few observations and no confirmations.

Posted by novapatch over 4 years ago

Thanks for the “list” @novapatch . I’ll be in NYC in October. 😀.

@mossgeek, are you connected with the California Lichen Society? You could advertise your lichen walks via them, etc. we’d love to have another connection in southern CA.

Posted by metsa over 4 years ago

yes im part of cali lichen society and wanted to reach out. I still have been settling in since moving back here from Oregon so i was slowly easing in... I had to re-remember all the lichens here from over 10 years ago when i was last here. Im under my real name-- Chris Wagner as a member. I was also rolling around an idea of having a "southern chapter". Its one of the reasons why i created 2 seperate projects for Lichens and bryophytes for southern california. The species are so different than northern cali. Projects really help to see the unique species we have here and what is common and what is rare.

Posted by mossgeek over 4 years ago

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