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Mountain Fir Moss (Huperzia appressa)

Life history

Species overview

Mountain Fir Moss (Huperzia appressa), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found on exposed cliffs and talus slopes. The optimal identification period for this species is late July through early September.

Synonyms: Huperzia appalachiana


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Leaves entire, the mature upper ones 2 to 3.5 mm long (much shorter than all other species of the genera found in our region), no annual constrictions. Distiguished by its entire leaves from H. lucidula (leaves toothed at the tip) and from H. selago by lack of annual growth constrictions and multiple psuedowhorls of bulblets produced throughout the mature portion (vs. only 1 pseudowhorl).
  • Flower characteristics:
  • Fruit characteristics: Spores 29 to 35 microns, borne in clusters in axils of sporophyll, which resemble other leaves.
  • Leaf characteristics: Narrowly triangular, entire, green to yellow-green; leaves on the juvenile lower portion longer (4 to 6 mm) than the upper mature portion (2 to 3.5 mm).


  • Blooming phenology:
  • Fruiting phenology: summer
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is late July through early September


  • Growth form: Fern ally
  • Vegetative reproduction: Bulblets (gemmae), with bulblet bearing branchlets produced throughout the mature portion
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Trisetum spicatum, Primula mistassinica, Fragaria virginiana, Solidago hispida, Agrostis scabra, Alnus incana ssp. rugosa, A. viridis ssp. crispa.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Mountain Fir Moss (Huperzia appressa). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Huperzia appressa in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found on exposed cliffs and talus slopes.
  • Soils: Damp, acidic soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Mountain Fir Moss. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Natural communities score
Dry Cliff 2
Moist Cliff 2

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Mountain Fir Moss. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Ecological landscape score
Superior Coastal Plain 3

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • Avoid direct disturbance to sensitive microsites such as seeps, cliffs, and moss-covered boulders.
  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Buffer management around unique microhabitats such as ephemeral ponds, seeps, etc.
  • Follow BMPs, especially around streams and use care near ravines, steep slopes, cliffs, rock outcrops, etc.


Mountain Fir Moss Photo.

Scanned specimen courtesy of Wisconsin Herbarium

Mountain Fir Moss Photo.

Scanned specimen courtesy of Wisconsin Herbarium

Mountain Fir Moss Photo.

Photo © Tom Gerstenberger.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition