Creeping Feather Moss
Feather Mosses (Amblystegiaceae)
This is an evergreen perennial moss with a pleurocarpous habit of
growth, forming a low mat of leafy stems that branch irregularly.
During the spring before the production of spore-bearing capsules,
these leafy stems have a petite feathery appearance, but they later
become more scraggly in appearance. The overlapping leaves are located
all around and along the entire length of the stems; their distribution
along the stems is moderately dense. Individual stems are light green
to yellow and terete. Individual leaves are 0.5-1 mm. long (rarely up
to 1.5 mm. long) and lanceolate, lanceolate-ovate, or
lanceolate-pyriform in shape. Leaf margins are usually toothless,
although on uncommon occasions they are slightly toothed along their
outer margins, or on rare occasions they are more conspicuously toothed
along their entire margins. The leaf bases strongly clasp the stems,
while the leaf tips are long, slender, straight, and narrowly
acute. The inner side of the leaves is somewhat concave, while the
outer side is somewhat convex, particularly when the leaves are moist.
Moist leaves spread from their stems at a 30–75° angle, while dry
leaves are usually less divergent.
The leaf surface is light green to
golden yellow (the latter color is more likely to occur under dry sunny
conditions). The leaves have solitary midribs that extend from their
bases to 35–75% of their length. Leaf cells are irregularly quadrate
(4-angled) near the leaf bases, otherwise they are more angular-oblong
in shape. This moss is monoicous, producing male reproductive organs
and female reproductive organs on the same plant; they are often
located close together. As a result, sporophytes are commonly produced
during the spring. Each sporophyte consists of a spore-bearing capsule
at the apex of a seta (slender stalk). The setae are light yellowish
green while they are immature, but becoming more red as they mature;
they are more or less erect, slender, and smooth. The body of a
relatively mature spore-bearing capsule is 1.5–2 mm. long with an
arched cylindrical-oblanceoloid shape. The lid (operculum) of the
capsule body is 0.5 mm. long and short-conical in shape. Both the
capsule body and lid are initially light green, but they later become
red to reddish brown. After the lid detaches from the capsule body and
falls to the ground, a ring of inwardly curved triangular teeth is
revealed; these teeth (peristome) are reddish at their bases, becoming
yellowish at their tips. A white-membranous hood (calyptra) with a
moderately long beak initially covers the upper capsule body and lid,
but it soon splits apart and falls to the ground.
The spores of the
capsule body are released to the wind. Individual spores are 12-15
micrometers across, globoid in shape, and finely bumpy (papillose).
Reddish-brown fibrous rhizoids are produced in clusters along the lower
sides of stems; they help to anchor the stems of this moss to the
substrate. This moss can reproduce asexually when a disturbance of some
kind creates fragments of leafy stems. These fragments are able to
develop their own rhizoids along the undersides of their stems.
The preference is light to medium shade, moist to mesic conditions, and
a substrate consisting of soil, humus, or rotting wood.
& Habitat: The native Creeping Feather
Moss (Amblystegium serpens)
is common in the northern half of Illinois, while in the southern half
of the state it is occasional (see Distribution
This moss is
undoubtedly more common than these distribution records indicate,
however. Creeping Feather Moss is widely distributed around the
world, including North America, South America, Eurasia, Australia, and
northern Africa. In Illinois, this moss is found in such habitats as
ground soil in deciduous woodlands, ground soil near woodland paths,
rotten logs and decaying fallen branches in woods, ground soil in
swamps, rotten logs in swamps, lower trunks of trees in wooded areas,
ground soil at the base of mature trees, shaded ground on wooded
slopes, shaded slopes and bottoms of ravines, exposed rocks along
woodland streams, earthen banks and bottoms of intermittent streams,
shaded sandstone and limestone cliffs, wet ground in quarries, wet
spoil banks from dredging or mine operations, shaded banks of ponds in
city parks, shaded ground soil
along buildings, shaded ground near parking lots, and shaded edges of
yards. Outside of Illinois, this moss has been found near lighted cave
entrances. Creeping Feather Moss occurs in highly disturbed areas to
high quality natural areas. It is fairly common and rather weedy
Associations: A mite, Eustigmaeus
oviposits and feeds on this moss (Glime, 2017f). Several songbirds use
Creeping Feather Moss (Amblystegium serpens) as
for their nests; these bird species include the Eastern Phoebe,
Robin, Least Flycatcher, and Dark-eyed Junco (Breil & Moyle,
As a result of this activity, these songbirds may spread this moss to
new areas because fragments of its leafy stems are able to reestablish
themselves as clonal plants.
Location: Shaded edge of a yard at the
webmaster's apartment complex in Urbana, Illinois.
Many moss species that were once assigned to the Amblystegium
have been reassigned to Hygroamblystegium and
other genera in the
Feather Moss family (Amblystegiaceae). In addition, some former species
in the Amblystegium genus have been discarded as
insignificant forms of
Creeping Feather Moss (Amblystegium serpens) and
other similar species.
As a result, this moss is rather variable across its
worldwide range. These variations include differences in the size and
width of individual leaves, the extent to which the leaves are
divergent from their stems, and the length of the midribs in relation
to the length of their leaves. Occasionally, field specimens are
encountered that do not fit neatly into any of the current
classification systems for this group of mosses. Creeping Feather Moss
is probably most similar to another common species, Tangled
Feather Moss (Amblystegium varium, Hygroamblystegium
latter moss species differs by having slightly larger leaves (1-2 mm.
long), prominent leaf midribs that extend nearly to the leaf tips, and
slightly longer spore-bearing capsule bodies (2–2.5 mm. long).
Otherwise, these two species are very similar to each other in
appearance, and they seem to prefer similar habitats, although Tangled
Feather Moss may prefer habitats that are a little more wet.