Bryophyte identification

In my experience it is impossible to assign correct identifcation to any moss, liverwort or hornwort with microscopic examination of the leaf structure. And often positive identifcation depends upon reproduction structures - sporophytes and spores.

I have posted several such photomicrographs on my page, but think this content is inappropriate for Inaturalist and I may remove them all. Photomicrographs appear most often on Flickr,

Hi @helen48, microscope photos are perfectly acceptable for posting to iNaturalist, no need to delete.


Hm, then I’m wondering… how did any of my moss observations get to RG? Should they be un-RGed?

After checking my observations, I realize only one is RG - this set of blurry photos taken by a 10-year-old and identified by me (based on CV) and @sedgequeen, who (no rudeness intended) I’m fairly sure is not a bryophyte expert. So, again, should this not be Research Grade?

I think you meant to say “…WITHOUT microscopic examination…” ?

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I believe there are a few species of moss liverwort and hornwort that are distinctive enough that they can be IDed without the use of a microscope. For example, where I live in NYC, the moss Silvery Bryum, and the common liverwort Marchantia polymorpha are both quite distinctive-looking.


I don’t really understand what sort of conversation this post was intended to spark… microscope photos are fine, and some mosses, liverworts and hornworts can be identified without extreme closeups. Seems like a pretty simple answer :)


Bryophytes can sometimes be identified to species without microscopes, but for many species, maybe most, it can’t be completely determined without microscopic characters. If possible I make my observations with one photo of the whole plant and then the others with microscope images (see this observation by Zihao Wang: iNaturalist AI in general does a poor job recognizing bryophytes to species level, so I would say it’s a bit messy right now on here, but myself and other folks interested in bryophytes try and go in an identify those that are readily identifiable, and get to at least family on others. The problem is that there are many species of moss for example that look similar to the eye, and even then are best with clear photos. I say keep uploading them to help the algorithm learn! I love that mosses and other bryos are becoming more popular these days.

For those that are research grade, we usually use a variety of components including what we can see of the leaf shape, but also the habit and location. Even then sometimes it can be hard to say as the bryophyte flora online is very incomplete.


Mosses of the Northern Forest has a symbol on various species that are “Field Identifiable”, in that they require at worst a hand lens or good macro shot. These should be safe to get to RG at least in the area this guide covers. Don’t forget that someone can flag an observation as “No, it’s as good as it can be” and genus level observations can become RG this way.


Welcome to the forum!

Keep in mind the computer vision has to learn from correctly identified photos, so if no one is identifying them correctly…


I’m no bryophyte expert! I’m just beginning to learn a few.

However, a few mosses and at least two liverworts in the Pacific Northwest can be identified by sight or by the better photos of the kind usually posted on iNaturalist. At least when location is taken into consideration. I base this not on my own attempts at identification, but on observations that have identified by others plus field experience with people who can ID some mosses (not most) from a few feet away. There’s even one moss in one habitat that can be ID’d from a moving car (apparently - I wouldn’t do it, though I do recognize its genus).


The book Common Mosses of Western Oregon and Washington by McCune and Hutten has information about IDing some mosses that can be ID’d without microscopic characters as well as microscope photos for ones that require it.

My favorite moss is Hylocomium splendens which can be identified easily (at least in the PNW) as far as it can be seen well.


I’m pretty sure the original post was written as intended given that all of her observations are microscopic with no macro images. Consequently a lot of the subsequent discussion actually supports her assertion. However I might be completely wrong. Hoping she comes back to the discussion as I love mosses but feel they don’t get a lot of attention on iNat. :slightly_smiling_face:

Excellent photos with microscopic examination of the leaf structure…keep on posting i would say.!!!
It will help others to understand what they should see.
You have additional equipment ?


Posting micrographs of mosses would be great! I’ve taken to posting leaf cross sections for fescue grasses, since they’re important for ID. I don’t do as good a job of taking the photos as you do, though.


Flickr is just a photosite, posting there means data is pretty much lost for scientists, as they don’t browse Flickr in search of moss photographs with saved EXIF and added location (which is rare). iNat is for any photos you can do.
Please merge your photos, you have 1 individual in multiple observations, it should be all photos of it in 1 observation.


The more bryophyte observations on iNaturalist that include microscopy images, the better. That said, quite a few common bryophytes certainly can be identified from ordinary closeup photos- some genera have a nice combination of being visually distinctive and containing only one or two species, or a particular species having a really distinctive visual trait.


I :heart: mosses and about 40% of our yard has been transformed into moss yards. My main reason, beside always loving moss, was to attract lightning bugs as I heard that the “babies :two_hearts:” thrive in the cool, moist darkness. Two nymphs were found when I was removing weeds from the moss!

Besides moss never needs to be cut or watered on a regular basis (a light misting during periods of drought). Growing a moss lawn doesn’t contribute any air pollution, water waste or the need for herbicides, pesticides or insecticides used! Occasional weeding until the moss is thicker.

I was asked by Cornell University to write articles on moss lawns, yet I’m not sure if they can be posted here, so I’ll hold off.

The way I got started was looking under the grass in a sunny section of our yard and I saw moss! So I started removing the grass, plant by plant. There was a bit of clean dirt exposed with the grass gone and when misted, eventually the moss filled in. Since I used the moss that was already there, I didn’t need to know the species in order to buy more. I’d rather harvest my own because it’s growing successfully there anyway. And those “moss milkshakes” do not work!

The cool thing is that in the following years, after the moss and several fern species started growing in the shade of a large dogwood tree, more different species of mosses blew in and grew there also. They reproduce under the snow also!

The best things that you can do for the moss are:

  • Walk on it - this helps it adhere to the soil
  • Weed it - herbicides and the others will kill it!
  • Water - by misting it, not soaking it!

It’s nice driving home in the summer when many yards are dry and brown, and when rounding the curve, seeing our front yard in the sun, shining a bright golden-green! Think of the amount of time that mowing the lawn uses and how you can use that time relaxing instead! The other ecological addition we did was plant ECO-LAWN on a hillside. It’s a slow growing, deep rooted blend of fescues that needs a bit more water to be established, yet after the first yr, only water during extreme drought! We buy ours from Wildflower Farm, and we let our grass grow as tall as it wants, then falls over and our lawn is a nice “ocean of green waves””.” If you want a traditional cut lawn, you only need to cut it 3 times a year!

I’m not affiliated with anything mentioned, just know what worked for us. Lots of information on the Wildflowers Farm website about ECO-LAWN. There are other grass seed that appear similar, yet I don’t know how they perform. Once we saw a whole yard of only Ecolawn, we were sold!


My yard is naturally more than half moss. We’ve done no weeding or grass planting etc, rarely mow, and keep chickens in a movable cage (I suppose the correct term would be “chicken tractor”) on it. The chickens tear it up, but whatever plants and mosses want to grow back do. It looks absolutely terrible compared to the neighbors’ perfectly mowed, watered, grass-only lawns, but is probably much more ecologically healthy. So, I guess a sort of similar situation to yours, but more wild and less nice looking.


@helen48 – I apologize for misinterpreting your post which was mainly about posting microscope photos, not whether or not some mosses can be ID’d without them. I think it’s great you would take the trouble to make such photo and then post them. They are often needed for identification and even when they aren’t they’re good education for the rest of us. I hope you continue to post them.