Last year I decided to bite the bullet and 'get into' mosses. Being in North-west Ireland, we have more rainfall than most areas and mosses are very numerous in every type of environment. The initial phases of moss study are very slow indeed, with a great deal of time being spent hunched over keys and microscopes. Slide preparation takes ages, too, with a low-powered (x 40) microscope being used to make the initial leaf prep, followed by much higher power (x 100 - x 400) for the leaf cell analysis. Having said that, once the initial identifications have been carried out, the mosses themselves are quite easy to identify in the field
Racomitrium lanuginosum grows on rocks and develops a rather grey look as the season progresses:
Pleurozium schreberi is a very attractive, low-growing moss in damp areas. The central stem is distinctly red:It took me quite a while to confirm the id for this one: Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus is said to prefer lime or neutral areas. In fact, I find it everywhere I look. I'm told that it can grow in 'sheltered areas on acid', but this shot is from one of the most exposed places I know. Having repeatedly keyed it out and then rejected the id based on the ecology described in the books, I had to get the id confirmed by a proper bryologist.
The very closely-related Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus is the one very often found in lawns.This is a top-down shot:
If mosses in general seem like a daunting subject, then don't go near Sphagnums. The references are in conflict, and they admit that classification is 'fluid and contradictory'.
Sphagnum squarrosum (I think):
And Sphagnum subnitens - one of the hummock formers:
The green bits growing through the above Sphagnum are new growth of Polytrichum formosum, a very photogenic species that will feature strongly as the season progresses. Eagle-eyes will spot the heather shoots to the top left.
Most of my identification work was carried out in February and March last year. It's a good time of the year for mosses, but some work has to continue later in the year when the fruiting capsules are required to separate some species.
The Philonotis fontana specimens are just pushing their heads above water. It will be a few weeks before they show properly.