Mosses and Liverworts

Haircap Moss
Haircap Moss (Polytrichum sp.) with fruiting bodies.

Mosses and liverworts occur in a variety of habitats throughout Shenandoah National Park. These non-vascular plants (bryophytes) lack well developed water conducting tissue and tend to be most abundant in moist areas, such as the splash zones of a waterfalls, or in the higher elevation forests that are frequently enveloped in fog.

Mosses and liverworts contain photosynthetic pigments and, like more advanced plants, produce their own food from sunlight. Mosses typically have small leaves arranged in a whorl around a short stem. Liverworts are closely related to mosses, but can usually be recognized by their larger flattened leaves that grow in two rows.

The park supports approximately 208 species of moss and 58 species of liverwort. These plants can grow on many different substrates including soil, rocks, and bark in a variety of environmental conditions. Some examples from Shenandoah include white cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) on nutrient poor acidic soil, haircap moss (Polytrichum commune) on moist ground, and sphagnum moss (Sphagnum spp.) in the Big Meadows swamp.


Related Information

Crum, H.A. and L.E.Anderson. 1981. Mosses of Eastern North America. Columbia University Press, New York, New York.
Hicks, M.L. 1992. Guide to Liverworts of North Carolina. Duke University Press. Durham, North Carolina.

Last updated: March 5, 2019

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