PhyscoHunt's Journal

Journal archives for February 2019

February 18, 2019

Tips on identifying and collecting goblet moss

Hello everybody!

The past weeks have brought a significant activity in the project. We have a lot of Physcomitrium popping in many states of the Southern US, from Texas to the Carolinas, and we have reached the amazing number of 37 project members, thank you for your support!

With this first "blooms" of goblet moss we are also finding the first challenges on how to identify them in the field, when to collect them, etc. Today I will try to help a little with this, please, feel free to comment or email me any questions.

Many of the recent observations on iNat show very nice colonies of Physcomitrium in their early stages, with the capsules expanding, like the image in the banner of the group:

Young Physcomitrium colony

Or this one from @adiamond:

Another young Physcomitrium colony

Note the upright stalks and the pear-shaped capsules with their calyptras. Spore production (due to the biological process of meiosis) is on fire at this stage, but the young spores still need to mature and to be covered with sporopollenin, the substance that will make them extremely resistant out there.

At this stage it is very easy to misidentify young Funaria colonies, the bonfire moss, and take them for goblet moss (Physcomitrium). I have already seen a few of these, and the automatic ID app of iNaturalist also has some problems identifying them correctly. Take, for example, this picture submitted by Helen Hamilton via email.

A young colony of Funaria

The calyptra covering the capsule is very similar, and at first the stalks are short, so it is virtually impossible to tell them apart from goblet moss. However, very soon the Funaria stalks grow tall and the capsule seems almost hanging. The "beak" (rostrum) of the calyptra is also relatively longer. These images remind me of swans, with a long neck and the beaked head almost looking downwards.

I hope this helps a little identifying the goblet moss. Now, another important issue is WHEN to collect them. Remember that we will be extremely thankful if you want to take your participation one step further and send us actual specimens. However, the samples from the previous images are not ready to be collected, the spores are too young. A colony ready to be sampled and dried out will look more like those of these observations by kdwhitbey and johnjschenk

PhyscoReady1 PhyscoReady2
Mature Physcomitrium colonies

A closer look to these samples may reveal a situation like this one, a zoomed in capture of the observation from ash2016.


There are capsules in several stages of development here, some of them even completely open, but a majority show a healthy toasted color and the lid still in place. This is exactly the right moment to collect them. as explained in the training guidelines.

As usual, we are happy to help you with your questions.

In a future post I will share some ideas to allow the samples mature indoors if you can't return later to a location where they are green at the moment.

Happy PhyscoHunt!


Posted on February 18, 2019 07:23 PM by rmedina rmedina | 4 comments | Leave a comment

February 25, 2019

Moss terraria 101 (and making Physcomitrium mature indoors)

Hello to all Physcohunters!

Many of you are already experts spotting those goblet mosses out there. However, they are often found when the capsules are still too young and green to be collected for our project. This is ok if you can record the location and return a few days later, but, what if you don't plan to return to that location? Is this a missed opportunity? Worry no more! This scenario is ideal to learn how to grow mosses in a terrarium.


A simple bryophyte terrarium I kept for a few months

If you are interested in mosses and other bryophytes, you might like to know that they can be kept indoors without too much maintenance. The basics for a bryophyte terrarium is a closed transparent container that can hold a moist (saturated) atmosphere. It can be a fancy glass bell like the one I found around my lab, a jar, a plastic container, etc. In fact, this is basically what we do in our labs of Connecticut and Illinois to keep and propagate the Physcomitrium cultures that you send us.


The moist soil serves as a reservoir of water to keep hydrated the mosses. You can place this container virtually anywhere in your house, but many moss species in these terraria will do well in well lit conditions but protected from direct sunlight. Some condensation will likely appear inside the container, and that's ok (however, read below for the particular case of Physcomitrium). You can always open for a few hours the container if you want to reduce condensation as long as you keep inside enough humidity to keep the mosses hydrated.

These basic terraria can last for a decent amount of time (many weeks). However, often the new growth of mosses inside will not look too pretty and your initial arrangement may not look too well after a while. You may consider to replace them at that point.

Bryophytes are valuable biodiversity assets in many ecosystems and we will never advocate for heavy collecting in the wild just for aesthetic purposes. However, many common mosses that you can find in disturbed and populated areas, such as your backyard, sidewalks, etc, will grow well in a terrarium and will make more accessible its interesting life cycle. Since goblet mosses are indeed one of these very common and ubiquitous bryophytes , they are ideal for this purpose!


Ok, so you found some green goblet moss in your weekend trip. It is still too young to be sent to the PhyscoHunt guys, but you don't want to miss this opportunity, so, what to do?

First, report the observation using iNat. Business as usual. And then, collect the green sample and prepare a mini-terrarium for a few days, Just enough time to let the capsules turn brown. This can be done in ANY sort of closed transparent container. Literally.

Examples of not-so-fancy terrarium containers in which I have matured goblet moss in the past. Even one of those zip-lock plastic bags will do the trick.

Make sure you include enough moist soil (or maybe a moist piece of towel paper) as a reservoir of water. Keep an eye on your moss during the next days, and take it out of the mini-terrarium to dry out completely once the capsules look brown, as explained in our previous post. There is, however, an important consideration: excess of humidity may make the capsules moldy. For some reason, during this stage of the development the goblet moss sporophytes are very vulnerable to fungi. This makes sense: Physcomitrium are ephemeral mosses, meaning that unlike perennial mosses (those that remain present in a spot during several seasons) they complete their life cycle in a relatively short period of time, and then they decay. In their natural environment, these mosses are used to a drop in humidity towards the last stage of their development.

What to do? Monitor your mini-terrarium closely: the leafy part of the moss should remain fresh and hydrated, but you should not see too much condensation. Instead of closing it completely, leave the container slightly open and monitor that the moss does not dry completely until the capsules turn brown.

Do you have questions for us?

Have you ever tried to keep a moss terrarium?

Feel free to make your comments below

Posted on February 25, 2019 11:14 PM by rmedina rmedina | 2 comments | Leave a comment