Ceratodon purpureus

Fire Moss



Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Ceratodon, from the Latin
  • purpureus, from the Latin, "purple"
  • Common Name, from
  • Other common names include Purple Horn Toothed Moss


  • Kingdom Plantae
    • Phylum Bryophyta
      • Class Musci
        • Subclass Bryidae
          • Order Dicranales
            • Family Ditrichaceae
              • Genus Ceratodon
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 16864
  • Also known as Ceratodon dimorphus, Mielichhoferia recurvifolia


  • A native, short moss that forms dense tufts or sometimes cushions.
  • Leaves short and hairlike, spreading when moist; somewhat folded or twisted when dry.
  • Stem erect, usually about 1/2" long. Upper 3/16" is current year's growth; often slightly branched by forking at the tip of the old growth. Stems sometimes become 2.5"-3" long in shaded places.


  • Identifiable as
  • Distinguished from
  • Field Marks


  • Throughout US and Canada, where it is known from every state, province, and territory.
  • It likely occurs in every country throughout the world but is possibly replaced by closely related species in tropical latitudes.


  • Often found on disturbed sites. Occurs on a wide range of substrates including soil, rock, wood, humus, old roofs, sand, and cracks of sidewalks. Most abundant on exposed, compact, mineral, dry, gravelly or sandy soils but tolerates a wide range of soil textures.
  • Typically found associated with other species characteristic of disturbed sites such as Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) and Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea).
  • Prefers low competition and high light; however, it is somewhat shade tolerant. A colonizer of disturbed sites and readily invades mineral soil by spores. Rapid colonization after disturbance can help prevent soil erosion. The abundance of fire moss after disturbance promotes a large accumulation of organic matter, which favors the development of invertebrate fauna. Often replaced by flowering plants in later stages of succession.
  • Sporophytes appear early in the spring, as soon as the snow melts. In March, the setae reach their full height and begin to turn from green to red. Capsules mature by late spring. By midsummer the capsules often decay, and the setae break from the moss.




    Able to tolerate much higher pollution levels than other mosses. It is common in urban and industrial environments subjected to a variety of pollutants, along highways, and on the tailings and refuse associated with both coal and heavy-metal mining activities.


  • Reproduces by spore and vegetatively via protonemata (threadlike or platelike growths).
  • Dioecious. The capsules are held horizontally on the end of a long fruit stalk. Generally fruits abundantly. Wind is the main method of spore dispersal.
  • Spore germination a two-phase process. Spores first swell then distend. Usually the fruit stalks are present in great numbers in the colony; with changes in humidity they twist and untwist. This movement helps to jerk the capsules, helping in spore discharge. Spores have remained viable even after drying for 16 years.



  • Hardy to USDA Zone 2 (average minimum annual temperature -50ºF)
  • Not generally cultivated



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Last updated on 18 April, 2004