Books and equipment
To get started with moss identification, three and one-third great references are readily available.
(1) Conard, Henry S. and Paul L. Redfearn, Jr. 1979. How to know the mosses and liverworts, 2nd ed. Wm. C. Brown Co. Dubuque, Iowa. This is one of the familiar “spiral keys” (which the publisher refers to as the “Pictured Nature Key Series”). This book’s advantages are its reasonable price, pertinent and well organized explanatory material, and its inclusion of liverworts. A drawback if you’re working just in the midwest is that it covers all of North America, which makes it cumbersome to distinguish local species and also limits the amount of information per species.
(2) Crum, Howard. 2004. Mosses of the Great Lakes Forest, 4th ed. The University of Michigan Herbarium. Ann Arbor, Michigan. This book is perfect. It has great keys, abundant clear line drawings, detailed descriptions including field recognition hints, and a wealth of background information on moss biology, and human and natural eclogy of bryophytes. (Hint: An earlier edition of the book is available through used booksellers that is nearly as useful as the newest edition, and it seems to have a more engaging writing style, with more interesting and quirky moss lore. Get that one instead or, better yet, get them both!)
(3) Crum, Howard, and Lewis E. Anderson. 1981. Mosses of Eastern North America: In Two Volumes. Columbia University Press, New York. Magnificent, but it costs $400! (That’s an exclamation point (!), not a “factorial” sign, but it might as well be one!)
(4) Volume 27 of The Flora of North America is the first of 3 volumes on the Bryophyte flora and the first treament of them in the FNA series. It covers most of the acrocarpous mosses, and has excellent introductory chapters on morphology and ecology. The illustrations by Patricia Eckel are terrific.
Mosses are small. Magnification is necessary. Birders have binoculars around their neck. Bryologists carry a hand lens. Everyone you meet will think it’s a whistle! 10X (ten power) is the most useful. A great place to get one locally (N. High Street in Columbus) is Wm. Werkhaven and Son, Inc. They sell supplies for the jeweler’s trade, which includes not only magnifying loupes, but also fine-pointed forceps (tweezers) needed for the microscope work.
Microscopes are necessary, two of them. The low-powered dissecting stereomicroscope, with a usual magnification range of about 10X-40X, is not much more powerful than a hand lens, but it gives a wide field stereoscopic view with good lighting. Using the microscope frees your hands to pick apart the mosses for examination under the high-powered compound scope. Buying hints: (1) Look for a dissecting scope with a low power of 7X, not 10X. The wider view is helpful. (2) Make sure it has a good lighting system. Dissecting scope lighting is often too dim, necessitating a further investment in auxiliary fiber-optic lighting.
The high-powered compound scope picks up where the dissecting scope leaves off, magnification-wise. Its useful upper limit for bryological purposes is 400X. Even though many compound scopes have two eyepieces, the view isn’t really stereoscopic. The image just gets split into two for visual comfort.
Buying hint: A good way to economize is to look for a cheaper single-eyepiece model of compound scope, and invest instead in the best dissecting scope you can afford. (Together with the fine forceps, the dissecting scope is useful around the house for removing splinters.)