Big Red Stem Moss
General - stems orange to reddish, irregularly pinnately branched, ascending, 5 - 12 cm tall; forms light green to yellow-green mats.
Leaves - oblong to oval, rounded at tips, inrolled at sides.
Sporophytes - uncommon; stalks red to yellowish, 2 - 4 cm tall; capsules cylindrical, 2 - 3 mm long, horizontal.
In most forested habitats; particularly abundant in dry forests; uncommon in exposed areas; widespread and abundant across Northwestern Ontario's boreal forest; circumpolar.
Big red stem and stair-step moss are the 2 most common and widespread mosses in upland forests across the boreal region. Big red stem is identified by its distinctive red stem, clearly visible through the pale, yellow-green leaves. Big red stem often grows as part of a continuous mat of mosses and lichens on the floor of mature coniferous forests. It usually grows with other feathermosses - especially stair-step moss and knight's plume. Big red stem was often used to chink log cabins. The Woods Cree placed handfuls of it at eye level to mark the location of rabbit snares or to flag trails through the woods. The spore capsules of big red stem are rarely found, so sexual reproduction seems to be rare (possibly because of a lack of male plants), and there is no known mechanism of vegetative reproduction in this moss (other than stem fragmentation). It is interesting to speculate how a plant with almost no means of reproduction could become so common and widespread all around the world. The genus name Pleurozium comes from the Latin pleuro, meaning 'ribs', and presumable refers to the arrangement of the branches on either side of the stem that resembles a rib cage. This species is named in honour of J.C. Schreber, a German botanist.
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