Thursday, March 16, 2017

Electrified cat's tail

Mosses are difficult to identify. (Typical Canadian understatement; begin again.) Mosses are fiendishly difficult to identify.

They change from one day to the next, depending on the weather. They grow in compact mounds, uniformly coloured, one leaf blending into the next. They are multicultural; as many as 40 different species can live together on one tree, intermingled. Male and female plants may seem to be separate species. And they are best seen in the pouring rain, when cameras and magnifying lenses are at a disadvantage.

Back at home, Googling mosses, looking at photos, I find apparent matches. But most of them, once I follow the links, refer to them generically, as "moss". It seems that other people are as befuddled as I am.

Moss experts try to help, giving specific mosses easily remembered names. "Finger-licking good moss," "palm tree moss," "beaked moss," "wavy-leaved cotton moss," "goose-neck moss," and my favourite, "electrified cats'-tail moss." Now, the problem is remembering which of all those green, spiky mosses goes with which handy name.

This, I think, is Oregon beaked moss. I could (easily) be wrong. Note the lone, red sporophyte. (Or Rhytidiadelphus loreus? See comment by Matt Goff.*)

And this should be Electrified cats-tail, Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus.

Zooming in on one of the dozens of mosses on a short trail. Unidentified, for the moment. (Buckiella undulata*)

This one has a strong central stem. (Oregon beaked moss?*)
And in this one, the stem and branches are brown, even on a wet, green day. The branches here are opposite: compare to those on the Oregon beaked moss, which are alternate. (Glittering wood moss, Hylocomium splendens.*)

A hanging moss. These grow mainly on branches. (Brachythecium?*)

I thought I had memorized the order in which our guide, Jocie Brooks, had showed us the mosses, and could co-ordinate them with the sequence of photos. I was too optimistic. We saw repeats at random throughout the walk, and my list got scrambled in my mossy brain.

At least I remember clearly which one was the "Finger-licking good moss". Unfortunately, by then my camera had gone on strike because of the rain. Can't win.

*Updated after comments by Matt Goff.


  1. I've signed up for short class on the understory in April. Hope I can learn a few things. - Margy

    1. Sounds interesting, and the best time to be exploring the understory, full of little green lights!

  2. Well I have to agree with you! They all look green and feathery to me. But "Electrified Cat's Tail Moss', that's worth pretending that I know what I'm talking about!

  3. Mosses can definitely be a challenge, but I've enjoyed getting to know some of them a little better a bit further up the coast here in Southeast Alaska.

    The first one I've seen called lanky moss (Rhytidiadelphus loreus), the third one is Buckiella undulata, after that is Oregon beaked moss (Eurhynchium oreganum a.k.a. Kindbergia oregana)). Next is what I call stair-step moss because of the way it grows, but also called glittering wood-moss (Hylocomium splendens).

    I'm not sure about the last one - maybe a Brachythecium or something else in that family.

    1. Thanks; I've updated the post to include your ids.


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