Hylocomium splendens (Hedw.) B.S.G.
step moss (splendid feather moss)

Species Account Author: Wilf Schofield
Extracted from Some Common Mosses of BC

Introduction to the Bryophytes of BC


© Rosemary Taylor     (Photo ID #40539)


E-Flora BC Static Map

Distribution of Hylocomium splendens
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Species Information

Species description:
Genus name meaning woodland inhabitant. Species name reflecting the intricate beauty of the plants.
This species is often called the "stair-step moss" because of the distinctive branching pattern. Another common name is "mountain fern moss", a name evoked by its distinctive branching.
Distinguishing characteristics:
The elegantly feathery branched plants, with arching main shoots bearing feathery side branches, all arranged in a horizontal plane, coupled with the red-brown stems furry with paraphyllia, and the elongate sinuous tip of the stem leaves, are usually distinctive.
Dull, glossy green to brownish-green plants with red-brown stems, forming loose carpets of interwoven much-branched arching shoots. Annual growth usually marked by an abrupt angle from the preceding year's feather-like, flattened branch system on the main shoot.
Similar Species:
Species of the genus Thuidium have a similar branch­ing pattern but the plants are not glossy, tend to be yellow-green rather than brownish-green, and the stems are not conspicuously red. Kindbergia praelonga is often elaborately branched but lacks the regular arching shoots and the single flattened plane of the annual branch sys­tem is not apparent; stem leaves have one (rather than two) midrib and lack the sinuous apex. Kindbergia is most frequent in swampy sites in forests, while the Hylocomium is in well-drained sites. H. umbratum lacks the regularly arched main branch system and the whole plant tends to be golden brownish-green.


If more than one illustration is available for a species (e.g., separate illustrations were provided for two subspecies) then links to the separate images will be provided below. Note that individual subspecies or varietal illustrations are not always available.

Illustration SourceSome Common Mosses of BC

Habitat and Range

Usually terrestrial or on decaying logs in forest but also on cliff shelves, from sea level to alpine elevations, rarely epiphytic on tree branches and trunks. Often forming extensive carpets on coniferous forest floor.
World Distribution

Widely distributed in cooler parts of the Northern Hemisphere but also in to the Southern Hemisphere in New Zealand.


Synonyms and Alternate Names:
Hylocomium alaskanum (Lesq. & James) Aust.
Hylocomium giganteum Perss. nom. nud., non Bartr.
Hylocomium proliferum (Brid.) Lindb.
Hylocomium splendens var. alaskanum (Lesq. & James) Limpr.
Hylocomium splendens var. gracilius (Boul.) Husn.
Hylocomium splendens var. obtusifolium (Geh.) Par.