Bristly Haircap - Polytrichum piliferum


A low-growing (usually about 4 cm or less) species that forms open patches. Shoots have a characteristic shape, the short leaves being densely clustered at the shoot tip, leaving the reddish stem somewhat bare below. The greyish-green leaves are about 3 mm long, and the tip is drawn out to a long, white hair point, most noticeable on dry shoots when several tips project above the rigid, appressed leaves as a terminal brush. Each leaf has untoothed, incurved margins that partly hide longitudinal ridges of tissue on the upper surface. As with P. juniperinum, the male shoots in spring are particularly conspicuous owing to the highly coloured, modified leaves that form a deep reddish, terminal ‘flower’. The inclined, 4 to 5 angled capsules, commonly produced in summer, are borne on a 1 to 3 cm long, reddish seta.

Similar Species

Very similar to P. juniperinum but distinguished by the long white hair protruding from the leaf tip.

Identification difficulty

It is is an effective colonist and pioneer of dry, acidic substrates. It prefers a somewhat more open, mobile substrate than P. juniperinum and is most frequent on disturbed, acidic sands and gravels and on bare patches in sandy, heathy grassland in the lowlands. It is also widely distributed and common in upland areas: on disturbed, stony substrates such as path edges, scree beds, exposed, montane ridge tops, river shingles and gravelly lake margins. It is sometimes found on dry peat as a colonist of burnt moorland.

UK Status

Frequent and widespread in Britain.

VC55 Status

Most records for VC55 are concentrated on north west Leicestershire. 

Leicestershire & Rutland Map


Yellow squares = NBN records (all known data)
Coloured circles = NatureSpot records: 2020+ | 2015-2019 | pre-2015

UK Map