Spruce's bristle-moss (Orthotrichum sprucei)

Spruce's bristle-moss
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Spruce's bristle-moss fact file

Spruce's bristle-moss description

GenusOrthotrichum (1)

Spruce's bristle-moss grows in neat, rounded cushion-like patches (4). When dry, the narrow leaves are straight, but they spread out when moist (4). The small tufts are often encrusted with debris that has been washed up by floods (2), and the lower parts of the plants are frequently embedded in silt (5).

Plant size: 0.5 - 1.0 cm (2)

Spruce's bristle-moss biology

Little is known of the biology of this species. Mosses, hornworts and liverworts form a group of plants called bryophytes (6). Bryophytes lack many of the more complex structures of the higher plants, such as a vascular system, and flowers. They do not have roots, instead they have structures called 'rhizoids' which absorb water and anchor the plant to the substrate. All bryophytes have an interesting life cycle consisting of two main parts, called the gametophyte and sporophyte generations (7). Plants that are in the gametophyte stage can reproduce sexually. Male organs (antheridia) produce male sex cells or gametes called antherozoids, which actually move to the female sex organs (archegonia) (7) through water droplets (8). Fertilisation occurs and a plant develops called a 'sporophyte', which remains attached to the plant. The sporophyte releases spores from within a capsule; the spores disperse and develop into a new gametophyte stage plant (7).


Spruce's bristle-moss range

This moss has a wide, but fairly sparse distribution in Wales and most of England, except for East Anglia. There is one historic record from Scotland (3). It has been lost from many historic sites in central and southern England. Elsewhere this moss is only known in western Europe, with a handful of records from Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Belgium (3).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Spruce's bristle-moss habitat

Spruce's bristle-moss is an epiphyte, growing on the bark of trees in the flood zone of streams and rivers. Typical host trees include alder, willow and ash; it also grows on wooden fence posts (5). It occurs at heights that are inundated by peak flood levels, but are dry for most of the year (3).


Spruce's bristle-moss status

Classified as Nationally Scarce in Great Britain (3).


Spruce's bristle-moss threats

Potential threats are the removal of trees and the alteration of the patterns of discharge of rivers and streams. The latter threat may result from flood prevention works, for example, so that trees do not become inundated with flood waters (3).


Spruce's bristle-moss conservation

A Species Action Plan has been produced for this moss under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP). This plan aims to maintain the current populations. Several populations occur within Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and therefore receive a degree of protection (3).

The UK Biodiversity Action Plan for this species is available at UK BAP.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.


Information authenticated by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew:



A plant that uses another plant, typically a tree, for its physical support, but which does not draw nourishment from it.
A life cycle stage in plants, which has one set of chromosomes (threads of DNA protein) in the cell nucleus (a condition known as ‘haploid’), which arises from a spore (which is also haploid). Sex cells (gametes) are produced during the gametophyte stage. This is the dominant life-cycle stage in liverworts and mosses.
Thread-like structures that help to anchor the plant to the substrate, and absorb minerals and water. In liverworts they consist of a single cell, in mosses they are multi-cellular.
Microscopic particles involved in both dispersal and reproduction. They comprise a single or group of unspecialised cells and do not contain an embryo, as do seeds.
The stage of a plant life cycle that produces spores (microscopic particles used in dispersal and reproduction). This stage is diploid (in the cell nucleus there are two sets of chromosomes - threads of DNA protein) and is dominant in ‘higher’ plants such as flowering plants.
Vascular system
In plants, the system that allows water and nutrients to move around.


  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (August 2002) http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
  2. Smith, A. J. E. (1978) The moss flora of Britain and Ireland. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  3. UK BAP Species Action Plan (August 2002): http://www.ukbap.org.uk
  4. Watson, E. V. (1968) British mosses and liverworts. Cambridge University press, Cambridge.
  5. Hill, M. O., Preston, C. D, & Smith, A. J. E. (1992) Atlas of the Bryophytes of Britain and Ireland. Volume 3. Mosses (Diplolepidae). Harley Books, London.
  6. Church, J. M., Hodgetts, N. G., Preston, C. D. & Stewart, N. F. (2001) British Red Data Books: mosses and liverworts Joint Nature Conservancy Committee, Peterborough.
  7. Mosses and Liverworts in Wales (May 2002): http://home.clara.net/adhale/bryos/
  8. Egerton, H. & Jones, F. (Eds.) (1998) Nature Encyclopedia. Dorling Kindersley, London.

Image credit

Spruce's bristle-moss  
Spruce's bristle-moss

© British Bryological Society / National Museum & Gallery, Cardiff

National Museum & Gallery, Cardiff
Cathays Park
CF10 3NP
United Kingdom


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