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Montana Field Guides

Fir-tree Moss - Abietinella abietina
Other Names:  Wiry Fern Moss

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: SNR

Agency Status
MNPS Threat Rank:

External Links

General Description
Plants: Deep green, ochre to deep brown, occasionally touched with black. Stems upright to ascending (FNA 2014), somewhat bowed (Smith 1980), pinnately branched, to 12 cm in length; branches narrowed, disparate in length (FNA 2014), arranged in 4 rows (Smith 1980); paraphyllia thread-like to a little leaf-like, branched or not (FNA 2014).

Leaves: Stem leaves upright and not tightly appressed when dry (Smith 1980), spreading some when wet, egg-shaped, 1.2-1.8 mm in length, furrowed longitudinally, orange next to the stem; margins turned back and under, at least in the lower part, with papillae causing some waviness; costa ending well before the leaf tip. Branch leaves upright when dry, spreading some when wet, egg-shaped, 0.6-0.7 mm in length (FNA 2014), cupped (Smith 1980), the margins flat, and a little wavy along the edges from papillae; apex a narrow point or acumen; costa ending well before the leaf tip (FNA 2014).

Leaf Cells: Cells shorter toward the margins (Smith 1980). Stem leaf cells diagonal to 6-sided and rounded, each side with 1 papilla. Branch leaf cells in the shape of rounded-off squares (or these slightly elongated), each surface with 1 papilla (FNA 2014).

Fruit ripens in the last part of summer (FNA 2014).

Range Comments
North American Range

Canada: Found in all territories and provinces except PE; USA: northeastern states and VA, the northern states of the Midwest, and MT s to NM and AZ (FNA 2014). Known in Montana from Cascade, Carter, Custer, Fergus, Flathead, Gallatin, Garfield, Granite, Hill, Lake, Lewis and Clark, Meagher, Missoula, Richland, and Valley Counties (Elliott 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)

Dry, exposed calcareous soil and rock (Elliott 2016), soil in open, evergreen woodlands (FNA 2014).

Reproductive Characteristics
Dioicous. Seta 20-25 mm in length. Capsule ochre, tilted, bowed. Perichaetial leaves toothed in the upper portion (FNA 2014).

  • 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. 2014. Flora of North America North of Mexico. Volume 28. Bryophytes: Mosses, Part 2. Oxford University Press, Inc., NY. xxi + 702 pp.
    • Smith, A.J.E. 1980. The Moss Flora of Britain and Ireland. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 705 pp.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
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    • 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.
    • Lawton, E. 1971. Moss Flora of the Pacific Northwest. Hattori Botanical Laboratory. Japan: Yamabuki-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. 362 pages plus appendices.
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Citation for data on this website:
Fir-tree Moss — Abietinella abietina.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from