Hylocomium splendens

Mountain Fern Moss

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



  • Hylocomium, from the Greek, hulokomos, "wooded"
  • splendens, from the Latin, "to shine, be bright, gleam, glisten"
  • Common Name, from
  • Other common names include: Splendid Feather Moss, Step Moss, Stair Step Moss, Feather Moss, Harilik laanik (Est)


  • Kingdom Plantae
    • Phylum Bryophyta, the Hornworts and Mosses
      • Class Musci, the Mosses
        • Subclass Bryidae, the Mosses
          • Order Hypnales
            • Family Hylocomiaceae
              • Genus Hylocomium,
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 16375



  • A perennial, relatively large, robust moss, occurring in wide loose patches, often forming mats.
  • Stems 4"-6" long.
  • Rhizoids tiny, long, filamentous; transporting soil water remarkably long vertical distances to green surface tissues.
  • Average life span 8 years


  • Greenland to Alaska, south to North Carolina, and west to Oregon and California. Also the West Indies, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.


  • Abundant and often dominant in coniferous forests on water-shedding and water-receiving sites. On such sites, often develops a mat layer that may be 8"-12" thick. Also occurs on ledges, humus and decaying wood in cool, moist ravines and mountain woods from sea level to 10,000'.
  • A common moss on dune pastures in Scotland.
  • Restricted to areas sheltered by trees and shrubs. Requires shade, moderate water levels, and high nutrient levels. It is not rooted in the substrate and is nearly independent of the substrate's nutrient and water supply. Growth is controlled by rainfall frequency and degree of protection from evaporation stress . Dries up quickly when canopy cover is not adequate to prevent high evaporation. Growth rates highest in habitats protected from evaporation stress, and survival is enhanced in shaded habitats or in environments with high humidity and consistent cloud cover.
  • Typically occurs in stable late stages of succession. Very shade tolerant. Will replace the shade-intolerant lichens and often becomes the dominant ground cover in late seral to climax stands of White Spruce (Picea glauca) and Black Spruce (Picea mariana).
  • Commencement of bloom in mosses occurs when one or two archegonia (female gametophytes) open. In boreal forests, growth rates high in May, June, and August; growth slowed in October. Often an indicator of stable, late stages of succession stands dominated by White Spruce (Picea glauca) or Black Spruce (Picea mariana)


  • Not well adapted to fire. It typically occurs in wet stands of white or black spruce that have a fire regime of 200 to 400 years. When they do burn, the moss/lichen layer provides the major carrier fuels. These fuels take only minutes to reach equilibrium moisture content when the relative humidity changes; therefore, they are very flammable.
  • Generally killed by fire, although small patches may survive low-severity burns. Some moss species on burned areas can survive as fragments in the soil.
  • Takes many years to recover following fire. Although small patches may survive fire, it is not until a closed or nearly closed canopy is established that it can spread and become the dominant ground cover.
  • Tree canopy removal will kill moss, but removal of only the shrub canopy has a less severe effect. Growth is better in undisturbed areas than disturbed areas. Growth is so closely balanced with its microclimate that even the removal of a rather open shrub layer can have a measurable effect on growth rates.


  • Trees:
  • Shrubs:
  • Herbs:
  • Ground Covers: Shreber's Feathermoss (Pleurozium schreberi)
  • Mammals: Occasionally eaten by deer and caribou
  • Birds:


  • Formerly used for covering dirt floors and lining fruit and vegetable storage boxes.


  • Still used for chinking log structures in Alaska. The wet moss is pressed into cracks between logs using a wooden chisel. When the moss is dry, it remains compressed and stays green for the life of the cabin. In many ways it is preferable to modern material.
  • Used by florists to form banks of green in show windows.
  • Used in locating pollution sources and determining levels of pollution of heavy metals in the environment. Absorbs metals over its entire surface and is little influenced by variations in substrate mineralization. Close to the source, accumulates high levels of metals.


  • Reproduces sexually by wind dispersed spores.The period for gametangicel (structure containing the gametes) development is 11 months.
  • Reproduces vegetatively by branching laterally. A new, readily identifiable segment is produced each year, arising from the stems of the previous year's growth in a layered or steplike fashion. The bud which will develop into the following year's growth layer is formed at the same time that the lateral branches are initiated in the current year's layer, but further development is delayed. The buds do not start to elongate until the previous segment has completed its growth.


  • Division most successful method


  • Prefers cool, acidic soils


Boreal border

Last updated on 11 October 1999