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Montana Field Guides

Fountain Apple Moss - Philonotis fontana var. pumila

Native Species

Global Rank: G5T4T5
State Rank: SNR

Agency Status
MNPS Threat Rank:

External Links

General Description
Plants: Acrocarpous (Vitt 1988). Loose or dense tufts. Green to yellow-green, sometimes glaucous. Stems 1-10 cm tall, sometimes branched, and often with clusters of brown rhizoids (Flowers 1973; Lawton 1971).

Leaves: Imbricate to erect-spreading, straight or sometimes a little secund, ovate to ovate-lanceolate, 1.5-2.0 mm long, and at least the base is plicate. Margins revolute (sometimes only at base), serrate (often with double teeth). Costa percurrent to excurrent (Flowers 1973; Lawton 1971).

Leaf Cells: Upper leaf cells usually linear to oblong (sometimes short), walls thickened, and with a single papilla at one end of each cell or sometimes at both ends. Basal leaf cells usually smooth, broader, and cell walls thinner (Flowers 1973; Lawton 1971).

Philonotis fontana var. caespitosa: Present in Montana (Elliott & Pipp, 2016). Stems short to tall, sometimes reaching 20 cm in height. Leaves upright and overlapping to spreading, lance-shaped with ovate tendencies, flat or with 2 longitudinal pleats below (FNA 2014); costa extending to or slightly beyond the leaf tip (Lawton 1971).

Philonotis fontana var. americana: Present in Montana (Elliott & Pipp, 2016). Stems somewhat short to tall, occasionally reaching 16 cm in height. Leaves laxly spaced, spreading, chain-like, widely lance-shaped with ovate tendencies, occasionally curved like a sickle, with several longitudinal pleats, the uppermost leaves going around the stem in spiral-fashion (FNA 2014); costa extending beyond the leaf tip (Lawton 1971).

Philonotis fontana var. pumila: Present in Montana (Elliott & Pipp, 2016). Stems short, occasionally reaching 6 cm in height. Leaves densely spaced to lax, somewhat rigidly upright, sometimes strongly pointing to one side of the stem, lance-shaped, lacking pleats (FNA 2014); margins typically revolute their entire length (Crum & Anderson et al., 1981); costa extending well beyond the leaf tip (Lawton 1971).

Variety caespitosa: Fruit ripens throughout the year.

Variety americana: Fruit ripens early through late summer.

Variety pumila: Fruit ripens early summer through mid-summer.

Reference: FNA 2014 (28:111-112).

Diagnostic Characteristics
When submerged for extended periods, plants may exhibit atypical characteristics (FNA 2014).

Leaves of P. fontana, when living, may appear waxy and bluish (Crum & Anderson et al., 1981).

Distinguishing characteristics of variety americana include the chain-like leaf arrangement and uppermost leaves attached around the stem in spiral fashion (FNA 2014).

The stems of variety pumila, which forms mats, are very crowded, their rhizoids enmeshed into tomentum (FNA 2014).

Range Comments
Approximately 40 varieties of this highly plastic species are distributed in the Holarctic region (FNA 2014).

Philonotis fontana (variety not yet determined): Known in Montana from Carbon, Cascade, Fergus, Flathead, Gallatin, Glacier, Lake, Lincoln, Madison, Meagher, Mineral, Missoula, Park, Powell, Ravalli, Silver Bow, and Sweet Grass Counties (Elliott & Pipp, 2016).

Variety caespitosa: AK to NL and NS, and many continental states ([apparently] unknown in OR, ND to WI and IA, IN and KY, OH and WV, MD, and DE, MA and RI, OK to AL and LA); Mexico (FNA 2014). Known in Montana from Flathead, Glacier, Lake, and Madison Counties (Elliott & Pipp, 2016).

Variety americana: AK, BC and AB to CA and ID, UT and CO, and ON to NB, NY (FNA 2014). Known in Montana from Gallatin, Glacier, Mineral, and Park Counties (Elliott & Pipp, 2016).

Variety pumila: AK to QC (except SK) and NS, WA to CA, MT to CO, MN, TN (FNA 2014). Known in MT from Flathead, Glacier, and Mineral Counties (Elliott & Pipp, 2016).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 11

(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)

Variety caespitosa: Wet soil and rocks in open places along streams and seeps. From lowlands to ca 11,480 feet.

Variety americana: Wet soil in open places along streams and seeps, inclines, montane grasslands. From lowlands to ca 9840 feet.

Variety pumila: Wet soil along streams, seeps, and wet inclines. From lowlands to ca 10,830 feet.

Reference: FNA 2014 (28:111-112).

Reproductive Characteristics
Dioicous. Perigonia plate-like. Seta 2-7 cm tall. Capsules 1-3.5 mm in length, ribbed when dry; operculum mammillate; exostome divisions russet, lance-shaped, heavily papillose; exostome segments ochre to yellow, strongly folded longitudinally.

Variety caespitosa: Capsule sometimes reaching 3 mm in length.

Variety americana: Capsule sometimes reaching 3.5 mm.

Variety pumila: Capsule sometimes reaching 2 mm.

Reference: FNA 2014 (28:106, 111-112).

  • 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. 2014. Flora of North America North of Mexico. Volume 28. Bryophytes: Mosses, Part 2. Oxford University Press, Inc., NY. xxi + 702 pp.
    • Flowers, S. 1973. Mosses: Utah and the West. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. 567 p.
    • 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
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • 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.
    • Smith, A.J.E. 1980. The Moss Flora of Britain and Ireland. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 705 pp.
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Fountain Apple Moss — Philonotis fontana var. pumila.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from