Northern Ontario Plant Database
Hylocomium splendens (Hedw.) W.P. Schimp. in B.S.G.
En: stairstep moss, step moss, stepped feathermoss, piggyback moss, mountain fernmoss, glittering woodmoss, mountain feathermoss
Hylocomiaceae (Feathermoss Family)
Form: a large, delicately-branched feathermoss with new growth appearing in arching, step-like shoots; forming extensive, dull, green to brownish mats.
Gametophyte: stems arched, spreading, bipinnate to tripinnate, to 20 cm long, forming broad, flat, triangular fronds in step-like layers, with each year's growth arising from mid-stem of the previous year's growth. Stems red, covered with short, branched hairs (paraphyllia), branches tapering toward the tips. Plants dioecious, with male and female reproductive structures borne on separate plants. Stem leaves 1.6-3.2 mm long, oblong to ovate, concave, typically with an acuminate to attenuate, wrinkled tip. Costa double, extending 1/3 to 1/2 the length of the leaf. Primary branch leaves <1-1.5 mm long, elliptic to ovate, concave, with an acute tip. Branchlet leaves similar in shape but smaller, < 1 mm long. Costa short and double on both stem and branch leaves. Note that plants in Arctic regions become smaller with just pinnate to bipinnate fronds and have stem leaves with blunt to acute tips, rather than the long, wrinkled acuminate tips typical of richer boreal forest sites.
Sporophyte: seta red to reddish brown, 0.5-2.5 cm long, capsule 1.7-2.8 mm long, green, ellipsoid, curved to horizontal, with an assymetrical calyptra.
Habitat and Range Hylocomium splendens prefers moist, moderately-rich to nutrient-rich sites in the boreal forest and Arctic tundra. It occurs commonly throughout northern Ontario and often forms expansive carpets in the understory, especially in shady, boreal conifer forests. Hylocomium splendens is a circumpolar species also found in north Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
Similar Species: With it's bipinnate to tripinnate branches, the only species that may be confused with Hylocomium splendens are some of the Thuidium species, but these do not have new fronds developing from the middle of the previous year's stem and lack the red stem.
Internet Images: Images of Hylocomium splendens from the Mosses of Alaska website, including young sporophytes, complete with calyptras.
This link, with an image of two branching plants, provides a description of Hylocomium splendens in French.
For pictures of the leaf detail, see this selection of Hylocomium splendens images from Bioimages: the Virtual Field-Guide.
This image of Hylocomium splendens, from Michael Simpson's Bryophytes of North America website, clearly shows the red stems. Another image from the same site shows several young sporphytes, with their ellipsoid capsules and long-pointed calyptras.
This excellent illustration of Hylocomium splendens is from the online version of the Bryophyte Flora of North America; it shows the various leaf sizes and one of the many paraphyllia that cover the stem.
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