The small, rough-textured mats formed by this moss can vary in colour from a yellowish-green to pale green. Its main stems, which adhere to the underlying rock on which it grows, reach 40 mm in length. From these arise numerous crowded branches, only three to eight millimetres long. These, too, are sometimes subdivided into yet smaller branches. The slender, triangular leaves grow close to the stem, overlapping one another. They are usually flat and finely toothed or they can be un-toothed. Initially thought to be a species in the genus Eurhynchium, its capsules, with their combination of conical lids and knobbly stems led scientists to place it in the closely related Brachythecium genus as a previously undescribed species. However, it has now been proven to belong to the genus Scleropodium instead.
Mrs. Appleyard's moss was thought to be endemic to Britain, and known from one site in Somerset, one in Wiltshire and six in Derbyshire. It has now also been discovered in Ireland and north-western Germany, and more new sites will probably be discovered.
This species appears to favour shaded valleys on calcareous rocks, although on one site it grows in full sunlight on a sandstone wall. In this situation, it is possible that the moss obtains its calcium from the mortar between the stones. It is usually found on dark, dry ledges that are not suitable for other species.
Although previously considered a distinct species and classified as Near threatened in the UK, genetic evidence published in 2005 suggests that this moss is in fact a member of the widespread moss species, Scleropodium cespitans.
Having been found on so few sites, the status of this moss is uncertain. It is threatened by shading from un-controlled growth of ivy on one site and by secondary woodland on others. The sandstone wall on one site may require more careful maintenance to preserve the feather-moss growing on it. However, there is no direct evidence for decline. Indeed, recent evidence suggests that it could be spreading, particularly in Derbyshire. Being easily overlooked, many colonies may have been missed during surveys.
Mrs. Appleyard's moss has been listed as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) species and included in English Nature's Species Recovery Programme. It is also listed on Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. However, as a member of the widespread moss species Scleropodium cespitans, as recent findings suggest, Mrs. Appleyard's moss may be removed from the BAP list, but it cannot so easily be deleted from Schedule 8.
The UK Biodiversity Action Plan for this species is available at UK BAP.
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