Bryophyte identification

HomeResourcesBryophyte identification

Introduction… and identification difficulty ratings

This page lists useful resources applicable to genera or groups of species. Individual species resources are included on the relevant Species page, and books are listed on the Bryophyte literature page.

The current BBS Moss and Liverwort Recorders, Sharon Pilkington and Nick Hodgetts, have also put together a spreadsheet listing all the species currently recognised within Britain and Ireland (as of January 2021), giving each an ‘identification difficulty’ rating and with helpful notes for many. The idea of this spreadsheet is to help less-experienced bryologists – or those going to an unfamiliar area – with hints on when specimens should be collected for confirmation, when capsules are required for identification etc. It is in part to address a criticism sometimes levelled at the Field Guide – that some accounts make it sound simpler to identify certain species than it actually is.

It should be noted that this spreadsheet is Sharon and Nick’s personal assessment of the difficulties and other experienced bryologists might have a slightly different view of some of the ratings given. However, with this proviso, we hope that you will find the spreadsheet useful – please download and add your own notes if you wish. Species names are in alphabetical order, liverworts and hornworts first and follow the current (2020) nomenclature cross-referenced to many older names that are still in widespread use in floras, keys and other publications.

Apart from this spreadsheet, resources on this page are ordered by genus / species group, with a section at the bottom for general keys:

Download Identification difficulties spreadsheet


Hedenäs, L. 2005.  Amblystegiaceae slides from the BBS workshop

In 2005, Lars Hedenäs led a taxonomic workshop in Cambridge on the species traditionally considered members of the Amblystegiaceae. Some of his slides dealing with members of this group known to occur in Britain and Ireland can now be viewed as a taxonomic resource for those interested in this group.

Download the Amblystegiaceae slides
Hedenäs, L. 2003. The European species of the CalliergonScorpidiumDrepanocladus complex, including some related or similar species. Meylania 28: 1-116

This article from Meylania is a more detailed treatment of the Amblystegiaceae including ecological details which is available as a PDF download.

Access the download from the Meylania website


Holyoak, D. 2013. Notes on identification of species of Bryaceae.

Following the Bryum workshop at Preston Montford in November 2013, David Holyoak prepared a guide to the identification of European species of the Bryaceae with notes, keys and a bibliography. This guide includes separate keys for plants with mature capsules, rhizoidal gemmae, axillary gemmae and bulbils, as well as a general key to plants with none of these, and is highly recommended.

Note: an updated version of these keys is included in David’s new book on European Bryaceae. February 2021. See details on the Bryophyte Literature page.

Download the notes and keys


Hedenäs, L. 2004. Key to European Dicranum species. Herzogia 17: 179-197

A key to the twenty-nine European Dicranum species is presented. The features that are important for their identification are discussed. For each species, diagnostic character states and information about habitat and geographical distribution are provided. Most critical characters are illustrated.

Access the download from ResearchGate


Blockeel, T.L. & Kucera, J. 2019. Notes from the BBS Workshop on Didymodon, 2018 . Field Bryology 121: 23-30.

Two experts led a Didymodon workshop in  2018, and a report was published in Field Bryology the following year. The report includes some useful tips for identification of British and Irish species of Didymodon.

Download article
Jimenez, J.A. 2006. Taxonomic revision of the genus Didymodon Hedw. (Pottiaceae, Bryophyta) in Europe, north Africa and southwest and central Asia. J. Hattori Bot. Lab 100: 211-292.

This paper is a taxonomic revision of Didymodon which includes an excellent key and helpful diagrams and images.  It is available as a free download from the Hattori Journal section of the J-STAGE website.

Access the download from J-STAGE


Porley, R.D. 2016. A new key to Grimmia in Britain and Ireland . Field Bryology 116: 28-43

This key presented in the BBS Grimmia workshop in 2016 was published in Field Bryology in November 2016

Download the Grimmia key
Muñoz et al. 2015. Grimmia key from Flora Briofítica Ibérica . Translated from Spanish by RD Porley.

This key is based on the one written by Jesus Muñoz for the Flora Briofítica Ibérica, translated to English, with permission, by Ron Porley.

Download the FBI Grimmia key
Muñoz et al. 2015. Grimmia key from Flora Briofítica Ibérica . Translated and adapted for Britain and Ireland by RD Porley.

The same key as the previous link, but modified to include only British species

Download the Grimmia key to British species
Maier, E. 2010. The Genus Grimmia Hedw. (Grimmiaceae, Bryophyta): A Morphological-anatomical Study. Boissiera 63: 3-377.

Many Grimmia afficionados find this monograph published by Eva Maier in 2010 invaluable. It contains detailed illustrations of multiple specimens of each species.


Bosanquet, S. 2009. Orthotrichum – Britain’s Bristle-mosses. British Wildlife 20: 187-194

Sam Bosanquet’s 2009 article from British Wildlife on the identification of British and Irish species of Orthotrichum is made available here by kind permission of Sam and Andrew Branson (editor of British Wildlife and fellow bryologist).

Download article


Laine, J. et al. 2018. Sphagnum Mosses The Stars of European Mires. ISBN: 9789515131430

This book describes the 60 species of European Sphagnum mosses for both identification in field conditions and for microscopic work in the laboratory. The main emphasis is on the illustrations, mainly photographs, showing both the macroscopic and microscopic characteristics of the species. The text is in English.

Hölzer, A. 2010. Die Torfmoose Südwestdeutschlands und der Nachbargebiete. ISBN: 9783936055627

A useful guide to peat moss species found throughout Western, Southern and Central Europe. Species descriptions with detailed illustrations of key features. German text but with bilingual keys in German/English. The photos of microscope features is particularly useful.

Sadly this book has been out of print from some time and is very difficult to find second hand, but you may be lucky.

Hill, M.O. revised by NG Hodgetts and AG Payne. 1992. Sphagnum: A Field Guide. JNCC publication.

Somewhat superseded by the excellent recent publications, this guide may nevertheless be useful to begin your study of Sphagna.

Download the Sphagnum Field Guide


Blockeel, T. 2017. The Ulota crispa group in Britain and Ireland, with notes on other species of the genus

Tom Blockeel introduces some newly recognised species of Ulota and discusses the identification of species in this fascinating genus

Download article
Garilleti, R., Lara, F., Albertos, B. & Mazimpaka, V. 2001. Peristomal ornamentation, a precise character for discrimination of Ulota bruchii and U. crispa. Journal of Bryology 22-4: 273-278

This paper is referred to in Tom’s article above, and can be accessed online by BBS members from the Taylor & Francis website.

General resources

Hodgetts, N. 2024. Keys to British & Irish Bryophytes (work in progress)

The latest version (January 2024) of Nick Hodgetts’ keys which combine field and microscope characters in the style of E.V. Watson’s British mosses and liverworts (1954) textbook.

The keys are provided as 2 PDF files, for Mosses and (for the first time), Liverworts.

Nick comments:

  • I have not included a ‘mosses v. liverworts’ dichotomy at the top of the key. I don’t think it’s necessary, but perhaps some will disagree?
  • Some parts of the key are closer to Watson than others. For example, the part of Watson’s key covering the pleurocarpous mosses is probably the most successful part, and relatively little work was needed to update it. The liverworts, on the other hand, were slightly less successfully covered in Watson, and I more or less started from scratch. There are various ways they could have been divided up, but the way I have chosen seems to work reasonably well.
  • Like Watson, I have divided the key into ‘Sections’. The Sections very approximately correspond to more or less taxonomic groups, with the idea that budding bryologists should get to know what these broad groups look like, as they all have their own distinctive ‘jiz’. However, this has meant that some of the couplets in the two keys to the Sections are rather long, complex and inelegant. In my view, these are the least satisfactory parts of the key, so any suggestions for improvements will be welcome!
  • I have deliberately not shied away from using botanical terms. This, I believe, is very much in the spirit of Watson, who was also not afraid of inflicting them on his readers. In my view, getting to know the terms, understand them, and use them, is extremely helpful in developing one’s bryological skills.
  • The key is not completely comprehensive, but it’s not far off. Most of the rarer species are referred to in footnotes.
  • I was in two minds about whether, like Watson, to place all mosses with hyaline hairpoints into their own Section. In the end I decided against it, because hyaline hairpoints have evolved in so many different unrelated groups, but I understand if others disagree with this decision. In many years of using Watson’s key in bryophyte courses, I always found that – for some unknown reason – students tended to overlook the couplet keying out the ‘hairpointed mosses’. However, I am prepared to reinstate a ‘hairpoint Section’ if there is sufficient demand!
  • Preliminary testing has indicated that couplet 11 in the Key to Sections for mosses is rather unsatisfactory. However, once one gets to know what the genera Orthotrichum, Ulota and Zygodon look like, the difficulties largely disappear. I have included potentially problematic species, which might key out to either Section 10 or Section 11, in the keys for both Sections.

Please email Nick at with any comments or suggestions by the end of September 2024 .

Log of errata

Section 6, replace couplet 13 with:
13a. Leaves narrowed at base, widest above base; leaf base conspicuously whitish in field; individual shoots distinct, wide…..Campylopus fragilis
b. Leaves widest at base; leaf base not conspicuously whitish in field; individual shoots narrow, hardly distinct……….Campylopus pyriformis


Download the key to Mosses

Download the key to Liverworts
Multi-access keys

BBS member Hamlyn Jones is developing a set of multi-access keys for bryophytes (currently Sphagnum and Mosses). You can find these on his website (linked below), and he is looking for feedback. Please send any comments directly to him at

Multi-access keys for Bryophytes
Interactive version of the BBS Field Guide key

Paul Ross from Natural England has developed an interactive version of the BBS Field Guide key which he has provided for anyone to use. This key is best downloaded for use, rather than opened in a browser window.

For those who prefer the traditional printed keys, these are available to download below.

Download the interactive key
BBS Field Key from: Atherton et al (eds.). 2010. Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland. A Field Guide.
Download the BBS Field Guide key
BBS Field Key to Sphagnum from: Atherton et al (eds.). 2010. Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland. A Field Guide.
Download the BBS Field Guide key to Sphagnum

The authors of the Nationalnyckeln series of books on Swedish mosses have published a key to the moss genera which is free to download from their website.

The keys are in English as well as Swedish, often with helpful photos, and may be of use to beginners.

Download the Swedish key.