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A Thread Moss - Distichium capillaceum

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: SNR

Agency Status
MNPS Threat Rank:

External Links

General Description
Plants: Acrocarpous (Vitt 1988), growing in crowded, silky clumps of erect shoots (FNA 2007), shiny green distally, brown proximally (Lawton 1971). Stems 1-6 cm (Crum & Anderson et al., 1981) or sometimes a little longer, possessing a central strand; rhizoids forming a prominent matted covering from mid-stem to the base (FNA 2007).

Leaves: Arranged in 2 vertical rows on the stem (FNA 2007), 2-4 mm in length (Lawton 1971), the upright base enveloping the stem, whitish, lance-shaped, the subula spreading; leaf edges flat or curving up and inward a little, finely toothed along the subula; costa filling most of the subula and extending beyond the apex (FNA 2007), the awn papillose and spreading (Lawton 1971).

Leaf Cells: Sheath laminal cells very narrow to quadrangular, sometimes a little bent, becoming square or nearly so in the subula; costa in X-section with dorsal and ventral stereid bands, the ventral band smaller, and guide cells in 1 row (FNA 2007).

Fruit ripens summer through autumn (FNA 2007).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Plants tend to be smaller and grow closer together in harsher conditions of northern or alpine habitats (FNA 2007).

The similar but shorter Distichium inclinatum grows with its stems closer together and has capsules inclined rather than vertical (FNA 2007).

Range Comments
North American Range

AK to NU, BC to NL and NS, extending from MT s to NM, west from that line to the coastal states, ND and SD, WI, IN, and MI, NY to ME; Mexico (FNA 2007). Known in Montana from Carbon, Cascade, Fergus, Flathead, Gallatin, Glacier, Granite, Lake, Lewis and Clark, Lincoln, Madison, Meagher, Missoula, Park, Sanders, and Teton Counties (Elliott & Pipp, 2016).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 17

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Moist, calcareous soil and stone in fissures, on shelves, or near streams (Crum & Anderson et al., 1981), less common on bark. Ranging in elevation from low to high (Lawton 1971).

Reproductive Characteristics
Antheridia near but not mingling with the archegonia. Seta red, or brown with red or yellow tones, somewhat bent or twisted, not rough, sometimes reaching 20 mm in height. Capsule upright, straight or weakly bowed, 1-2 mm in length, carried beyond the perichaetial bracts, somewhat creased when dry (FNA 2007), brown; peristome single with 16 teeth, the teeth lance-shaped (FNA 2007), regularly spaced (Crum & Anderson et al., 1981), split nearly to the bottom into 2 or seldom 3 thread-like divisions, occasionally papillose or very finely longitudinally ridged (FNA 2007), frequently broken (Lawton 1971). Calyptra like a draping hood (FNA 2007).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Crum, H.A. and L.E. Anderson. 1981. Mosses of Eastern North America. 2 volumes. Columbia University Press, New York. 1328 pp.
    • Elliott, J.C. and A.K. Pipp. 2018. A Checklist of Montana Mosses (1880-2018). Updated 3 January, 2020. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, Montana. 73 pp.
    • Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 2007. Flora of North America North of Mexico. Volume 27. Bryophytes: Mosses, Part 1. Oxford University Press, Inc., NY. xxi + 713 pp.
    • Lawton, E. 1971. Moss Flora of the Pacific Northwest. Hattori Botanical Laboratory. Japan: Yamabuki-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. 362 pages plus appendices.
    • Vitt, D. J. Marsh, and R. Bovey. 1988. Mosses, Lichens & Ferns of Northwest North America. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. 296 p.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
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    • Flowers, S. 1973. Mosses: Utah and the West. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. 567 p.
    • Lawton, E. 1971. Keys for the Identification of the Mosses on the Pacific Northwest. Reprinted from 'Moss Flora of the Pacific Northwest'. Published as Supplement No. 2 of the Journal of the Hattori Botanical Laboratory. Nichinan, Miyazaki, Japan. 66 pp.
    • Malcolm, B., N. Malcolm, J. Shevock, and D. Norris. 2009. California Mosses. Nelson, New Zealand: Micro-Optics Press. 430 pp.
    • Smith, A.J.E. 1980. The Moss Flora of Britain and Ireland. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 705 pp.
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Citation for data on this website:
A Thread Moss — Distichium capillaceum.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from