Thelia hirtella    (Hedw.) Sull. in Sull. & Lesq.

Nipple Moss 

MN Status:
special concern
Federal Status:


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Minnesota range map
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North American range map
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Pterigynandrum hirtellum

  Basis for Listing

Thelia hirtella (nipple moss) is endemic to eastern North America, within the temperate bioclimatic zone. It has been recorded regionally from Ontario, Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin. In Minnesota, only two populations have been discovered in St. Louis County in 1976 (Northern Superior Uplands). With so few populations documented in Minnesota, there is too little information available at this time to detect a statewide population trend (Janssens 2005). Further inventory work is needed to clarify the species’ distribution in the state as well as potential threats to its survival. Based on its apparent rarity, Thelia hirtella was designated a species of special concern in 2013.


Thelia hirtella is a small plant that creeps up the base of trees, sometimes to a height of 60 cm (2 ft.), forming mats that are pale green to grayish green. The long trailing brown-felted stems are sparsely and irregularly pinnate; branches are spreading or erect and abundantly covered in paraphyllia (brown or green thread-like hairs or fuzz) that attach the plants to bark. Stem leaves are distinctly larger than branch leaves, 1.0-1.3 mm (0.04-0.05 in.) long, and strongly ciliate along the margins (Crum and Anderson 1981). Branch leaves are only 1.0 mm (0.04 in.) long, cupped and scale-like, deltoid-ovate and narrowed to a short to fairly long apiculus (abruptly short-pointed), and appearing julaceous (smoothly cylindrical). Teeth along the margins are irregularly dentate and are difficult to see (McKnight et al. 2013). The costa (midrib) is single, 1/2-3/4 the length of the leaf and is often indiscernible, even with a hand lens (Crum and Anderson 1981; McKnight et al. 2013). Setae (stalks) are 5-12 mm (0.2-0.7 in.) long, supporting a capsule that is upright, cylindrical, and about 2 mm (0.08 in.) long. Thelia asprella (thelia moss) is a similar species that also grows on trees, except its stem and branch leaves are not as differentiated, and it has less paraphyllia than T. hirtella.


Thelia hirtella frequently grows on bark at the base or on the trunks of hardwoods, sometimes on decayed logs and stumps, rarely on soil or rock.

  Biology / Life History

Separate male and female plants, with dwarf male plants resting on the leaves of the larger female plants; however, male plants are few and hard to find (Crum and Anderson 1981). The specific epithet, meaning hairy, refers to the ciliate leaf margins.

  Conservation / Management

Very little is known about this moss species other than its preferred habitat on the bark of hardwoods. The most obvious threat to this species is any activity where a significant amount of trees that serve as substrate for T. hirtella would be removed.

  Best Time to Search

The best time to search for Thelia hirtella is from May through September or essentially anytime the ground is not covered by snow, since this species typically occurs at, or near, the base of trees.


Erika R. Rowe (MNDNR), 2018

(Note: all content ©MNDNR)

  References and Additional Information

Allen, B. 2007. Theliaceae in Flora of North America Editorial Committee, editors. Flora of North America north of Meico. Volume 28. [web application]. <http//>. Accessed 21 October 2016.

Crum, H. A., and L. E. Anderson. 1981. Mosses of eastern North America. In two volumes. Columbia University Press, New York, Yew York. 1330 pp.

Janssens, J. A. 2005. Proposed candidates of endangered, threatened, and special concern species of bryophytes for Minnesota: update June 2005. Report to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, County Biological Survey, St. Paul. 18 pp.

Janssens, J. A. 2009. MS Access database on Minnesota bryophytes. Lambda-Max Ecological Research, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

McKnight, K. B., J. R. Rohrer, K. McKnight-Ward, and W. J. Perdrizet. 2013. Common mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. 392 pp.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2003. Field guide to the native plant communities of Minnesota: the Laurentian mixed forest province. Ecological Land Classification Program, Minnesota County Biological Survey, and Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, St. Paul, Minnesota. 352 pp.

NatureServe. 2009. NatureServe Explorer: an online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. <http.//>. Accessed 10 June 2009.

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