The Q&A Archives: Looking for Hairy Cap Moss

Question: I am looking for a type of moss called Hairy Cap Moss. It grows about a foot tall and is supposed to do very well in wet ground. Can you please give me any info on it and where I can find it please.

Answer: Hairy Cap Moss is the common name of Polytrichium Juniperum. Of the 1000 or more species and varieties known to the experts -- and it takes an expert to name some of them -- there are a dozen or more that an amateur with a lens can find and identify. The Hairy Cap Moss, also called Pigeon Wheat, is a rather coarse moss, growing on dry open knolls near damp woodlands. In fall or winter it is a greenish-brown cushion of bristling stems. In early summer it is tipped with the vivid green of new growth on top of the old dead growth of previous years. At this time it also sports a forest of shining ruddy stiff bristles each bearing a woolly object like a small grain of wheat. This is covered with a pointed cap which encloses the spore capsule. When the spores are ripe, this cap falls off to expose a beautiful green four-sided "pepper box" which sifts the fine dust-like spores into every passing breeze.

In a damp suitable place, one of these spores sprouts and grows-into a sprawling network -- perhaps the size of your hand -- of green threads which produce knots or buds. Each of these shoots up a leafy stem held
erect by fine root-like anchors -- the "trees" of the elfin forest. Some stems are topped with rosettes of leaves set in little cups which produce sperm cells. Melting snow or spattering raindrops carry these swimming
sperm cells to egg cells that appear on the tips of other stems. From these, a new spore capsule grows and so the cycle is repeated.

While I was able to find information about the plant, I cannot find any source for you.

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