Examples of excellent moss observations?

Most moss observations in my area go unidentified, in part because there is no one near here who habitually IDs mosses, but also I guess because mosses are hard to ID and not many people take moss observation in a way that even an expert can confidently ID. As a result, I’m not sure I’ve come across any really well documented moss observations in my time on iNat, and I don’t have a good sense of what they look like.

I have a couple of microscopes, and plenty of moss. Which moss observations are worth emulating, and what advice can you offer the moss-curious? Thank you.


It’s hard to give a formula that would work for all mosses. Different mosses have different diagnostic features. Some could be readily ID’d from a macro photo. But in many other cases you’ll need various shots of various different parts under the scope.

In most cases a wet mount of a few leaves stripped from the stem will be helpful. If the plant has sporophytes, those are good to get a photo of. But without identifying the plant yourself (or getting close to the correct ID) you won’t really know what the most important characters to show in your observation are (though it is a heavy lift to learn moss ID on your own, workshops and classes, if available in your area, make getting started so much easier).


I don’t have an ideal observation but you can check RG observations and see what works, every moss group is different in terms of easiness of identification. You need to check a local id key that will show you what to look after.


There is a decent list of good observations from around the world here https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/curated-list-of-quality-bryophyte-observers. Unfortunately, there are few bryologists who devote their time to iNat, but most are happy to give pointers even if the observations are not within home territory. All the best.


I hope it’s OK that I expand on this subject… I’m working on learning moss ID, and am learning to take photos, including through a dissecting microscope, that hopefully show the ID characteristics (the comments on this thread are helpful!)

As I get going I’ll probably start tagging experts, asking them to take a look at my observations. But it would be nice to draw together a group of people seriously working on moss ID, to look at each others’ observations and give feedback/work together. Any ideas on how to do that? Or would that best be done in another format, like a Facebook group?


I think for specific place it’s a good practice to check the list of identifiers for the region, probably they won’t be against you tagging the to observations where you need help. Traditional project could work as a facebook group.


I’m also still a beginner when it comes to bryophyte observation and ID, but one thing that I found helpful is to also take note of the habitat in detail.

Although photos in bryophyte observations naturally tend to be extremely zoomed in, I try to remember to write a short description of the habitat or at least take a zoomed out photo to remind myself where I found it. Detailed (if not microscopic) morphology is definitely the most useful, but habitat information helped a lot when I’m trying to solidify an ID. (Some epilithic bryophytes almost exclusively grow on basic rocks, for example.)

Some things I might try to note are: light exposure, type of substrate (soil, rock, tree bark, and further types within those categories like silt, calcareous rock, etc.), amount of moisture, and any larger features like streams nearby.

I’ll also add an observation where I used a more detailed key (The Moss Flora of Britain and Ireland, A. J. E. Smith) and tried to be as thorough as possible:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/64442407 (Plagiothecium succulentum)

I hope that’s helpful, and thank you all for your great advice on this thread! :-)


Yes this is a great point! It could also be good to include a habitat photo, as there may be details that don’t seem relevant to you that may be important to someone else.

Something I learned once is that instead of just writing “growing next to a stream” try to make note of how much water the moss may get from the stream, for example if it is low enough that it may be inundated at high flow, or if it is in the “splash zone.”

Another thing for mosses growing on bark is to note the identity of the host tree (to the best of your ability, even hardwood/conifer can be informative).


That project has neither of two people I know that are really great botanists in general, including mosses. This is not a slight against the project, but an observation. Here are my recommendations, both based in the U.S.:


Thank you all for the responses and input. I’m going to try making a couple of moss observations following what I’ve learned here, and then post the links here and ask for feedback. Thank you!


Okay, here (with 12 photos) is my first attempt to do a moss observation right.
Constructive criticism would be appreciated. Thank you!

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It didn’t have spore cases, I presume? If it did, those would be important to include, too.

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It didn’t thank you. But now I know I should look for samples that do, which helps me.

I started this reply last week but had to divert to snow shoveling… and in the meantime some other replies covered some of what I wrote below… am posting my comments as written in hopes they help.

Here are a few broad suggestions on how to improve Bryophyte observations and how to build a personal record of your Bryo finds as you work your way into the ID’s. Also some thoughts about how to get good fotos and at the end is a brief list of References I have found extremely helpful.

1: Before you leave home, take a foto of your computer date/time for that days files. Sounds weird, but sometimes cameras etc just lose it. KNOWING the date kinda helps :) Then, when you get where you start your hike/hunt… take fotos of the General area FIRST. That way you can recall where you were when you first spotted the Bryo… Be sure to include your Bryo target in at least one of the general fotos even if you can barely see it. Later on you can make a copy and mark it up with PS or some other foto editing app. That’s the beginning of a permanent visual record/reminder of habitat/location. SEE photo hints below for more thoughts on how to record your bryo etc.

IF you find the Bryo target FIRST, then take your General shot last… but do make certain to get at least one. “Sweep views” of the area are good too > that way you can sometimes stitch them together for a more broad view of the habitat/location… even if you are in a forest 80+ feet under the canopy… there is habitat to record.

With regard to Location/Habitat/Notes… I set up my computer filing system by Watershed for the general images > the ones I don’t file with the individual Family/Genus/Species (or whatever taxonomic system you follow). I mapped out all the local watersheds where I hunt. I live on an Island so organizing by watershed makes the most sense for me. The organization starts broad and then layers down in detail. I BRIDGE & have an extensive ORGANIZED Key word file for quick tagging. It works for me… DO set something up for whatever works for you… and include maps of the areas. Google Earth helps if you make screenshots and then define the watershed/areas etc… It can be important to be able to find your location/habitat again.

It also helps to return to the same habitat all year long because you WILL find different plants and aspects of growth and learn how that eco-niche works over time.

2: After you have taken fotos of the General Area, move in closer and take fotos until you’ve got the best closeup you can get while in the field. Methodically count the number of fotos you take> 3-5 for example or 6-12 (or whatever), and try to take that same # every time you are Bryo hunting. Over time as your needs and skill change, that # will change too. Just try for a minimum to take as you work your way in close or back out. Once you have found your best closeup distance take your shots from different angles. You can always cull/delete your images (from my experience just delete the very worst out of focus shots… keep the rest in your files for future reference because there may be other interesting bryo species, insects, etc., in those fotos that you find years later! And that creature or other plant may be what someone else is looking for. it’s all connected.

As you get better at it or feel more confident with your camera you will determine what you want for your records… Your camera programmed metadata will provide you with some of the necessary info when working toward better fotos for ID and your records. IF you have a GPS unit powered up in your camera use it. If you have a hand held unit all the better… put the unit next to the target species, that will help re-locate the general area. The fotos & metadata you add help you build the ALL IMPORTANT CONTEXT i.e. the nearby plants, rocks, sunlight, water source i.e. habitat. Most Bryo have affinity for certain habitat including altitude so that’s why the General shots are important records > I think of them as the digital equivalent of dried herbarium specimens.

2: Collect a small sample for dissecting scope work and/or in-house/lab closeup fotos. Dry part of the sample & begin to build your own herbarium collection. If you have space & time grow some of your collection & observe changes. In 2017 I collected some Climacium dendroides for observation. It was growing in a boggy patch along a local river. I swished some of the plants in the river water to remove the mud and when I got home I separated the muddy ones out for ‘growing on’ and others for closeups and washed those again. As I was peering into the leaves (using my 105mmMicro lens I saw movement! There was a Nematode AND a tiny, tiny caterpillar still IN the moss. Ended up with fotos of the Nematode being caught by another something, AND of the caterpillar spinning a new cocoon… even got some Vid of them… ITS ALL ALIVE!.. That original C. dendroides is still alive, happy and probably hosts other life forms… The pot it’s in migrates around over the year… sometimes under the rain downspout, sometimes under a Rose bush, sometimes in the Sunporch (winter)… but I digress

3: For the best fotos for ID and records: Be sure to take images of each part & aspect of the plant that the various Keys indicate is important for an ID even if you have no clue what you have in hand.

**** This is circular: By knowing what information to provide for your personal herbarium collection records, you will know what to look for AND what images to take so as to make the ID.

About the fotos themselves since this is what the question was about:

If possible use a camera with a dedicated closeup lens. I use a D5600 which has a tilt/swivel screen. That’s been very helpful in getting closeups in the field especially for Bryo that are hard to reach and where I can’t tilt or swivel. My main lens is a 40mm MICRO (I’d use a 60mmMicro but they don’t make one for my D5600. I don’t like to lug around the heavier D850 a friend loaned me even tho it has a 60mmMicro. Prime lenses are generally the way to go, altho you can TOTALLY begin with the kind of 18mm to ‘whatever’ telephoto lens that sometimes comes with a DSLR package and there are lots of used units on the market. Just be sure you can switch out lenses and add a prime. I don’t use a cellphone for fotos so have no clue what’s out there.

From what I see in iNat observations, if one is just trying to indicate occurrence a cellphone image is fine. But when looking for high quality details, then a prime lens is the only way to go.

If you decide to get serious with your Bryo fotos, you can always add a prime lens to your bag. You can also add a Macrto Conversion lens to get another 25% closer. Just be sure to get the one that fits your present lens. And, yeah, this can get expensive so START WITH WHAT YOU HAVE and then make your decision. I’ve used my 2 prime lenses > Nikkor 105mm micro and Nikkor 40mm micro in place of a new dissecting scope for years (and the 105mm actually works as a kind of Telephoto! I’ve gotten some amazing bird fotos with mine. If you REALLY, really want the ultimate details then I suspect you will need access to SEM. :)

4: References for Bryophytes study

  A: "Introduction to Bryology" by Schofield, W.S.  This book is a 'backbone' book for anyone's Bryo Library.  NOT the kind of book to gallop thru and park on the shelf.  It is something to savor & pour thru again & again!  To learn about Bryo the morphological details are essential.  This book is THE main ACCESS to that.  As you learn the details you will have more questions.  Wilf taught me that when you have more questions than answers then you are learning.   The other two books by Schofield are "Some Common Mosses of British Colombia" and "Field Guide to Liverwort Genera of Pacific North America".   Even if you live elsewhere these are essential books for understanding Northern Hemisphere/Circumpolar Families/genera/species.

B:  "Mosses and other Bryophytes - An Illustrated Glossary 2nd ed. by Bill & Nancy Malcolm.  Fabulous fotos using cameras as well as microscopes. Pricey but OMG! 

C: “Mosses & Liverworts of Britain & Ireland”. Absolute must. The fotos are small but they get you there. The Info on each Genus/species is remarkable. A Backbone Book. (The cover may fall off but just tape it back together because you will use this book forever)

D: “Gathering Moss” by Dr. Robin Kimmerer. Read everything you can by this remarkable woman.

The following Authors/books are ALL musts. Does not matter how old the books are or where you live. They present fotos, knowledge, Keys and thoughts about Bryo that ALL add to the mix:

E.V. Watson - “The Structure and Life of Bryophytes” I wish I’d had this book from the beginning…

Janice M. Glime - “The Elfin World of Mosses and Liverworts of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Isle Royale”. Dr Glime has also authored a stupendous ONLINE book/course Data bank “Brophyte Ecology”. Many of the fotos by Michael Luth who is one of the go to Bryo people on the planet, are older but this entire work is… superlatives fail me.

Ralph Pope - “Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts - Field guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast” Great fotos including closeups and the presentation and organization makes it a backbone book.

Mary S.G. LIncoln - Liverworts of New England For the Liverwort smitten, this is a great starter book. the Keys and the line drawings are grand as are the maps.

McKnight, Rohrer, Ward & Perdrizet " Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians". Really great fotos and Keys. The mosses are presented by growth form and leaf shape. I’ve learned a lot via this book. The Line drawings are superb.

Vitt, Marsh, Bovey - " Mosses Lichens & Ferns of Northwest North America". I’ve had this book for about 30 years and still find it helpful in figuring out what I have in hand.

OK… hope this helps and it wasn’t (gasp) too long or (hahahahha) unfocused. And for some really stupendous closeups and ID’s look for Hermann Schachner’s fotos in Wikipedia.

If anyone has other Books I’ve missed or know of photographers (there are some amazing fotos on Flickr but not necessarily of ID’d Bryo), I’d love to know of them and if there is any group formed to devote itself to the HOW TO get fotos of Bryo, I’d really like to know that too… AND I’ll toss this out: What’s a good microscope (affordable) that I use with my nikon lenses attached…



Amazingly detailed advice, thank you! I’ll have to take a look at some of your moss observations.

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