Common Brophyte and Lichen Species of the Northwest Forest






Terminology | Pictorial

Polytrichum commune/Polytrichum juniperinum
Hair Cap Mosses


Polytrichum commune
Common Hair Cap


General - dark green, robust, unbranched, 4 - 15 cm tall or more; single-sexed, males have enlarged heads at plant tips, females produce sporophytes; lower portion covered by grey rhizoids.

Leaves - 6 - 10 mm long, lance-shaped, sharply pointed; spread at right angles when moist, erect-flattened and rolled when dry; membranous, sheathing base; edges coarsely toothed; midrib covered on inner surface with 20 - 55 vertical tiers of cells (lamellae) 4 - 9 cells high, each tier ends with U-shaped cell.

Sporophytes - common, at plant tips; stalk wiry, very long; capsules horizontal, 4- sided, 64 short, rounded teeth and expanded central membrane around capsule mouth; capsule hood has tuft of hair at tip, covers entire capsule.


In moist coniferous forests; widespread across Northwestern Ontario and boreal forests; cosmopolitan.


The hair-caps are the largest unbranched mosses in western Canada. Common hair-cap could be mistaken for alpine hair-cap (Pogonatum alpinum, also called Polytrichastrum alpinum), but that moss has round (not square) capsules. Tea made from common hair-cap was once taken to dissolve kidney and gall bladder stones. Based on the Doctrine of Signatures, this moss should be good for the hair, so a strong tea of common hair-cap was used as a rinse to 'strengthen and beautify' ladies' tresses. *The stems of common hair-cap often reach 30 - 45 cm or more in length. when the leaves are removed, the central stems form tough, pliable strands that have been used to make brooms and brushes or have been woven or plaited to make mats, rugs, baskets, and hassocks. Apparently this was quite an art in ancient Europe. A hair-cap moss basket from the remains of an early Roman fort at Newstead, England, dates from 86 AD.


Polytrichum juniperinum
Juniper Hair Cap


General - bluish green, shiny, short to long, slender to stout, upright, unbranched; grows in mats or more rarely as closely associated individuals; stems 1 - 10 cm tall.

Leaves - 4 - 8 mm long, upright-spreading when dry, wide-spreading when moist, thick, edges toothless, tip extends into short, toothed, reddish bristle-point; leaves similar to those of awned hair-cap.

Sporophytes - common; stalk upright, wiry, 2 - 6 cm long, reddish; capsule reddish brown, 2.5 - 5 mm long, 4-sided, vertical, becomes horizontal with age, puckered at base; 64 short, blunt teeth around capsule mouth; capsule hood long, with long hairs, covers entire capsule.


Soil, humus and rock, stumps, banks, trailsides, dry open woods; frequent after fire or logging; commonest on dry, exposed, acidic sites; common and widespread across Northwestern Ontario's boreal forest; cosmopolitan.


Hair-caps are easily recognized by their thick, stiff leaves with characteristic dark green ridges running lengthwise along the upper surface of the midrib. Unlike most other mosses, hair-caps have leaves with a well-developed system of tiny tubes for carrying water. Herbalists considered juniper hair-cap a powerful diuretic, and the tea made from this moss was used to treat urinary obstructions, dropsy and the like. Because it caused no nausea, it was considered an excellent remedy when it was necessary to continue treatment indefinitely. Juniper hair-cap is an important pioneer on many types of soils and a stabilizer of sand. It is said that a colony of hair-cap can hold a vertical 20 cm bank of gravel in place. The name juniperinum means 'like juniper'; the leaves of this hair-cap are similar in shape and colour to those of the common juniper.

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