Common mosses on walls

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Lowland areas

If you live in a lowland area with fairly basic geology, look out for these common species on stone walls, on old buildings, in churchyards etc. (scroll down for species to look for in upland areas / with more acid geology)

Grimmia pulvinata (Grey-cushioned Grimmia)

As its common name suggests, Grimmia pulvinata grows as neat round cushions, often with a hoary grey appearance, thanks to the long silvery hairpoints on the leaves. It is common on the tops (and sides) of walls, on roofs and on calcareous rocks and boulders just about anywhere you can think of. When fruiting (which it often is), the cushions are distinctive because of the seta’s habit of bending back into the cushion and burying the capsules amongst the leaves. But a note of caution: when the capsule matures and grows old, it gradually straightens, which you can see clearly in some of the images below.

For more information, visit the Grimmia pulvinata species page.

Tortula muralis (Wall Screw-moss)

Frequently found with Grimmia pulvinata, Tortula muralis can look superficially similar as it also forms grey, hoary-looking cushions – especially when dry. However, if it is fruiting – which it frequently is – the difference is obvious as it has capsules held on a very long seta. Often, you will see a wall bristling with cushions of moss and can be fairly confident they will be Tortula muralis.

For more information, visit the Tortula muralis species page.

Syntrichia montana (Intermediate Screw-moss)

Syntrichia montana is another moss that could easily be confused with Tortula muralis and it can require some close observation with a hand lens to be sure. Syntrichia montana is usually larger than Tortula muralis, and more often found without capsules. It also is frequently a golden colour, whilst Tortula muralis is often quite greyish. The photo with capsules below is showing both species – the greener one with capsules is Tortula muralis.

However, if you’re not sure, have a close look at the hairpoint on the leaves. Syntrichia montana has small teeth on the hairpoint – visible with a x20 hand lens – whereas the hairpoint of Tortula muralis is completely smooth. The leaf shape is also slightly different; Syntrichia montana leaves are slightly narrowed in the middle.

For more information, visit the Syntrichia montana species page.

Orthotrichum anomalum (Anomalous Bristle-moss)

Orthotrichum anomalum is another small cushion-forming moss and it likes exposed, sunny situations on lime-rich walls and other masonry. It lacks any leaf hairpoints and is usually a dingy olive-green colour. When dry, its leaves lie more or less appressed to the stem. Though rather anonymous-looking much of the time, in winter and spring it has striking, reddish-brown barrel-shaped capsules raised a few millimetres above the leaves and then the plants catch the eye. It is one of a group of similar mosses, the majority of which grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs. Only a few, however, have capsules which are completely raised above the leaves and of these, only Orthotrichum anomalum is common on rock and stone.

For more information, visit the Orthotrichum anomalum species page.

Schistidium crassipilum (Thickpoint Grimmia)

This very common little moss is another characteristic member of the urban wall top community in the lowlands. Like its associates, it is adapted to be tolerant of dry conditions. It grows in rather dense, spiky-looking cushions or low patches and close examination of its leaves with a hand lens will show them to be narrow and tapering sharply to a silvery hairpoint.

This, and other species of Schistidium, bear capsules that are sessile and largely hidden by the surrounding leaves. In winter and spring, once the capsules are mature and have opened, they catch the eye due to the vivid red colour of the capsule mouth and peristome teeth.

For more information, visit the Schistidium crassipilum species page.

Homalothecium sericeum (Silky Wall Feather-moss)

Homalothecium sericeum forms extensive patches on lime-rich walls (and tree bark). It is a glossy-looking species of a characteristic green or golden-green hue. Stems can be many centimetres long and they closely adhere to the surface, while numerous, crowded side branches with appressed leaves spread away from it. Although straight when moist, these branches curl upwards and inwards when dry, giving the dry plant a very distinctive appearance.

If you examine the long, spearhead-shaped leaves with a hand lens, you should notice that they are strongly pleated, so much so that it is often hard to discern the long single nerve that almost reaches the tip.

For more information, visit the Homalothecium sericeum species page.

Upland areas

In more acidic upland areas, you are more likely to find one or more of the Racomitrium species:

Racomitrium lanuginosum (Woolly Fringe-moss)

Racomitrium lanuginosum is a fairly ubiquitous moss in upland areas, growing not only on stone walls, but also on dry heath and raised bogs. It is another hoary moss with a long hairpoint, but doesn’t form neat cushions like the preceding species; instead it grows in scruffy-looking, sometimes extensive, patches. It can be confused with other Racomitrium species, but a close look at the hairpoint with a hand lens will reveal many coarse teeth along the margins.

For more information, visit the Racomitrium lanuginosum species page.