Common Brophyte and Lichen Species of the Northwest Forest






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Broom Mosses

Broom Mosses

Dicranum flagellare
Whip Fork Moss


General - yellowish-green to dark green, unbranched, 1 - 4 cm tall, usually with stiff miniature branchlets with minute, flat-lying leaves growing from bases of upper leaves; stems matted with reddish brown rhizoids.

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Leaves - irregularly curled and wavy when dry, not wrinkled, lance-shaped, 3 - 5 mm long, pointed, concave below, tube-shaped above; smooth-edged or toothed near tip.

Sporophytes - stalk yellow to brown, single, 1 - 2 cm long; capsule yellowish brown to brown, erect, straight, 2 - 2.5 mm long, furrowed lengthwise when dry.


Rotten wood or bases of trees; occasionally on humus; fairly common across Northwestern Ontario's boreal forest north to N.W.T.; circumpolar.


Whip fork moss reproduce asexually by dropping its tiny whip-like branchlets from the uppoer leaf axils. Whip fork moss could be confused with a less common species, fragile cushion moss (D. fragilifolium). However, fragile cushion moss has no stiff branchlets and its straight leaves usually have their tips broken off. Also, the capsules of fragile cushion moss are inclined and curved rather than ererct and straight. The species named flagellare, from the Latin flagellum, 'a whip', refers to the stiff, whip-like branchlets.

Dicranum polysetum
Electric Eels or Wavy Dicranum


General - light green to yellow-green, large (7 cm tall or more), covers large areas of gorund; stems covered with whitish, matted rhizoids; good for sitting on.


Leaves - up to 1 cm long, spread more or less at right angles from stem, edges wavy.

Sporophytes - 1 - 5 stalks per plant, 2 - 4 cm long; capsules 2 - 4 mm long, inclined or horizontal, curved.


Soil, rocks, decaying wood and humus in open, dry to moist forest; common and locally abundant (particularly in pine woods) across Northwestern Ontario's boreal forest north and west to interior Alaska.


In most common Dicranum mosses (including electric eels), the male plants have been reduced to tiny buds on the leaves of female plants. This combines the advantages of having the sexes separate, to encourage outbreeding, with the convenience of having plants of the opposite sex nearby, to increase the chances of fertilization. Perhaps this is the reason that sporophytes are so common on the Dicranum mosses. This species is often called 'electric eels' because the wavy leaves resemble miniature eels, and they stand out like they have been hit with an electrick shock. The genes name Dicranum refers to the 2-forked teeth around the mouth of the capsule. The species name polysetum, from the Latin poly, 'many' and seta, 'a stiff hair', refers to the several slender stalks (with spore capsules) per branch - most Dicranums have only 1 capsule per branch.

Dicranum scoparium
Brook Moss


General - erect, little branched, densely matted rhizoids on lower stems; forms large cushions and sometimes mats, 2 - 8 cm high.


Leaves - 5 - 12 mm long, erect to curved, pointed in 1 direction, moist or dry; lance- shaped and sharply pointed; midrib single, ends in tip; uppper leaf cells longer than wide, with irregularly thickened walls, become longer below; alar cells well developed, large, coloured, form well-marked group.

Sporophytes - often present, produced at plant tips; stalk single, straight, long; capsules curved, inclined, cylindrical, smooth; capsule teeth single.


Tree bases, humus, rotting logs and rock outcrops; common across Northwestern Ontario's boreal forest; circumpolar.


D. howellii. Cushion mosses (Dicranum spp.) are common throughout most of the boreal forest. They are identified by their medium to large size, erect stems, and leaves that curve to 1 side. Broom moss is one of the largest, most common species. The 4, well-developed, toothed ridges along the back of the midrib are characteristic of this species. At a more detailed level, the upper leaf cells of broom moss are longer than wide. Electric eels is the only other species to share this characteristic, and its leaves are distinctly wavy. Broom moss is often used by florists to make banks of green in show windows. The species name scoparium, from the Latin scopae, 'a broom' and the common name 'broom moss', both refer to the leaves of this moss, which look like they were swept to one side by someone sweeping the forest.

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