Plant of the Week

Map of the United States showing states. States are colored green where the bug-on-a-stick moss may be found.
Range map of the Bug-on-a-stick moss. States are colored green where the moss may be found.

Bug-on-a-stick Moss (Buxbaumia viridis)

By Cheryl Beyer

If you like looking for things that are small, with some persistence you might be able to find the capsule of this tiny uncommon moss, which is around ¼ inch tall. Found on rotten logs or peaty soil in moist conifer forests, it lacks leaves, and therefore remains hidden until its sporophyte (capsule) emerges.

bug-on-a-stick moss.
Bug-on-a-stick moss (Buxbaumia viridis).

Bug-on-a-stick moss is interruptedly circumboreal -- it grows in China, southwest Asia, Europe, Scotland, Scandinavia, Russia, Corsica, and western North America. Although widespread in Europe and Scandinavia, and apparently stable in the U.S., this species is declining and listed as rare, threatened, or endangered in most countries. Causes for this decline include changes in microclimate of deforested areas, the decrease of decayed wood in forests, and diminishing mesic forest.

typical rotten log lying on a streambank.
Typical rotten log habitat for Buxbaumia viridis.

During the winter, when most flowering plants have become dormant or dried, mosses can provide an enchanting respite from the showy flowers of spring and summer. Removed from of the distraction of color, smell, and form of flowers, we can enjoy the small, quiet charm of mosses.

Other species of Buxbaumia carry the same common name, but can be distinguished from one another by the mature capsule. The cuticle of Buxbaumia viridis is dull pale brown, and splits and peels lengthwise on the back of the mature capsule. On capsules of Buxbaumia piperi, it peels away just at the mouth. Buxbaumia aphylla has a glossy, red-brown capsule and a cuticle that peels back from the mouth as in B. piperi.

For More Information: PLANTS Profile - Buxbaumia viridis, Bug-on-a-stick Moss

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