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Dr M’s Spring term ID test: bryophytes

Recently, Dr M ran a Spring term plant ID test for his MSc students at University of Reading and has posted the results of Part 1 (vascular plants).

Here Dr M posts Part 2 of the test: the bryophytes – the group of lower plants which includes the mosses and liverworts.

There were ten species in total: three species to be identified without books (indicated in bold in the featured image above) and seven species to be identified with the aid of books and/or notes as required.

The test results:

The featured image shows the results (the number are just those used to order the plants in the test) but you can also find it here: Dr M’s Spring term ID test Bryophytes:

    • Yellow = Correct ID of the Order by more than half the class.
    • Blue = Correct ID of the Genus by more than half the class.
    • Green = Correct ID of the Species by more than half the class.

The test plants:

Illustrations of the 10 bryophytes ordered by number of correct answers; those at the top of the gallery had more correct ID’s than those below.

Hover over the image to check the Latin name and click on the images for a better view:


Dr M’s top tips for improving performance in bryophyte ID tests: (and being better at plant ID generally):

Learn the main groups: Revise your recognition of the main orders of bryophytes, use your hand lens to check the main characters, here are some hints for the orders in the test:

    • Marchantiales – thalloid liverworts with complex differentiated tissues, chambers and pores.
    • Metzgeriales – thalloid liverworts with simple undifferentiated thallus.
    • Bryales – acrocarp mosses with leaves with prominent nerve (which maybe excurrent) and leaf margins often toothed and sometimes with a distinct border of cells, and capsule usually pendulous with a mamillate (breast-shaped) lid.
    • Funariales – acrocarp moss (only one genus in UK; Funaria) with leaves broad with large thin-walled cells easily visible with lens, capsule pear-shaped, nodding, mature capsule becomes striate, seta long and curved, with long beak on calyptra.
    • Orthotrichales – acrocarp mosses, often epiphytes on wood or rock, with lanceolate leaves, overlapping (Orthotrichum) or twisted (Ulota) when dry. Capsule erect, immersed among the leaves (Orthotrichum) or exerted above the leaves (Ulota and Zygodon).
    • Polytrichales – acrocarp mosses, leaves narrow with longitudinal lamellae on upper surface and capsule erect to horizontal with calyptra cap-shaped and usually hairy – hence poly-trichum (=many hairs).
    • Pottiales – acrocarp mosses with spoon-shaped leaves, sometimes with excurrent nerve/hair point (Tortula etc), ovate or lanceolate and capsule erect, oval, oblong or sub-cylindrical, sometimes with twisted peristome teeth (Tortula etc).
    • Hypnales – the pleurocarpous mosses! Very variable in size and habit; though generally growing prostrate on soil, living or dead, wood or rock, and pinnately or irregularly branched.  Leaves may be (1) falcato-secund (curved to one side – e.g. Hypnum), (2) spreading more or less evenly on all sides (e.g. Brachythecium), or (3) complanate (with flattened shoots – e.g.  Pseudotaxiphyllum).  Leaves variable shapes, entire or serrate, usually with a nerve, sometimes double, sometimes none.

Dare to use the key! Practice keying species under pressure rather than guessing or ignoring the plant and leaving a blank!  The British Bryological Society Field Guide Key works pretty well, certainly for common species –  it’s all online, find it here and try it out!

Practice intelligent keying: Don’t just key out a plant and accept the first answer you reach, and certainly never just check the pictures in a book (or the internet) and fit the first thing that “looks” right!  Instead you should…

Always double-check: the ID carefully against written descriptions and illustrations to help reach correct determinations.

Check your determinations against herbarium material: why not build your own reference collection of common mosses and liverworts dried and stored in labelled envelopes (“moss packets”)?

There are no short-cuts: to developing plant ID skills, just practice, practice, practice!

Good ID skills are hard won: but highly valuable and valued by those that matter – and the so-called lower plants are often ignored – so earn that “warm fuzzy feeling” by trying to key a moss or a liverwort and mossively more warm and fuzzy when you get it right!

And finally:  It’s Bryo-logical Jim! Bryophytes are simply gorgeous and fascinating, check them with your hand lens, love them and they will love you back and your plant ID skills will go into bryo-orbit!


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