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Montana Field Guides

Brittle Crisp Moss - Tortella fragilis

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: SNR

Agency Status
MNPS Threat Rank:

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General Description
Plants: Acrocarpous (Vitt 1988). Firm, deep green to yellow or deep brown. Stems 0.5-5 cm; leaves widely-spaced on the stem, typically exposing their glossy bases, usually bereft of leaf tips due to fragility at the base of the falling subulae; thickly covered with rhizoids along the whole stem; central strand lacking (FNA 2007).

Leaves: When dry, upright to flat against the stem, curved inward or those leaves at the top spiraled a little around the stem; when wet, upright and spreading a little; 4-6 mm in length; the base slenderly lanceolate or narrower, constricted abruptly to initiate the subulate apex; apex slightly grooved on nonpropaguloid leaves (FNA 2007); costa shiny in dry leaves (Lawton 1971), nearly the width of the subula (Crum & Anderson et al. 1981), extending beyond the apex to form a short, smooth to faintly toothed mucro (FNA 2007).

Leaf Cells: Distal laminal cells nearly square to rounded and 6-sided, papillate, frequently 2-layered juxtacostally on one or both sides, becoming identical to the costal cells in the upper leaf tip; basal cells smooth, transparent (FNA 2007), linear, and running up the leaf margin to mid-leaf where they are reduced to a single row along the margin (Lawton 1971), the demarcation between these and the chlorophyllous upper cells well-defined (Smith 1980); marginal cells at mid-leaf wavy from papillae, becoming differentiated distally in 1-2 rows of smooth, elongate (3-4:1), thick-walled cells (FNA 2007).

Fruit ripens in early summer (FNA 2007).

Diagnostic Characteristics
The (mostly) fragile leaf tips that are little to not contorted when dry, and the long, stiff, subulate leaves are characteristic (FNA 2007).

Range Comments
North American Range

AK to NL and NS, s to NV, CO, SD, IA, MI, and PA (FNA 2007), also in mountains of NC and TN (Crum & Anderson et al. 1981). Known in Montana from Custer, Flathead, Glacier, Meagher, and Sweet Grass Counties (Elliott 2016).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 1

(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)

Soil (Elliott 2016) and calcareous to acidic rock (FNA 2007), rock fissures and shelves, bluffs, occasionally downed trees and peaty humus (Crum & Anderson et al. 1981) in fens and Cedar swamps, seeping areas. Elevation: 0-11,810 feet (FNA 2007).

Reproductive Characteristics
Dioicous. Rarely producing sporophytes. Perigonia unknown. Perichaetial leaves also fragile and propaguloid. Seta 15-20 mm tall. Capsule 18-30 mm in length; peristome filaments spiraled 1-3 revolutions (FNA 2007).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • 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.
    • Smith, A.J.E. 1980. The Moss Flora of Britain and Ireland. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 705 pp.
    • 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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    • Crum, H.A. and L.E. Anderson. 1981. Mosses of Eastern North America. 2 volumes. Columbia University Press, New York. 1328 pp.
    • 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.
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Citation for data on this website:
Brittle Crisp Moss — Tortella fragilis.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from