Plant Species of the Bright Angel Trail:
spike-moss, Selaginella mutica

See Plant Guide to Bright Angel Trail for an introduction to this page, especially the Introduction To These Species Pages.


Identification status: high confidence.

Keying from Kearney and Peebles:

1b. Leaves all alike
4a. Terminal bristles absent or very short;
    leaves narrowly-ovate/oblong, obtuse ...Selaginella mutica

This is the most common spike-moss in the Grand Canyon Village area, found on the Hermit Trail, Bright Angel Trail, and South Kaibab Trail from 3000 to 6000 feet elevation. There is one other spike-moss species on the South Rim, S. underwoodii, which has bristles at the tip of its leaves. One other species, S. watsonii, is only found at the North Rim; it is the common species in the mountains of southern California.

Spike-moss is sometimes known as resurrection plant, since it turns green when it receives water, and slowly becomes dormant and fades to ~gray when water is absent. It can survive a very long time, in very dry and hot conditions, waiting for rain to come again.

Nature guides like to pour water from a water bottle on these plants, which will turn green before the eyes of an appreciative audience. However, this stresses the plants, since they don't have enough photosynthetic time to make enough energy to cover the costs of the green - gray cycle. (Rains, with accompanying high humidity, generally come over a much longer interval than a sip from a water bottle, allowing the plant much more time for photosynthesis.)

Spike-mosses are primitive plants, but they do indeed have a vascular system to carry fluids throughout the plant. It is interesting that at least some floras done in the early 1900s generally did not include these primitive vascular plants or ferns. They are not even included in McDougall 1964!

From a SEINet search on 28 September 2007, there are 13 vouchers of this species from the Coconino County portion of the Grand Canyon, including one from this trail at an unspecified location. Note that there may be additional vouchers at other herbaria not available through SEINet.

First occurrence on Bright Angel Trail: mile 3.09 (off-trail), elevation 4663 feet (1421 m).

Number of plants along Trail: Only the single off-trail occurrence has been found so far; no plants have yet been found on trail. Fortunately, the plants are only 10 feet off-trail or so, and can easily be reached.


From 5 September 2007, mile 3.09 (the plants are just off-trail to the left in the drainage):

In the next picture, the black plants are true moss; the intricately-branched lighter plants are spike-moss. Both turn green when it rains, and slowly fade to black and gray, respectively.

In the following picture, note the tips of some of the stems still have green leaves, a product of the summer rains:

Note the absence of bristle-tips on the leaves in the following pictures. Many spike-moss species have bristles that would be clearly seen in such photographs, especially when they form bunches at the ends of the stems where the young leaves are bunched together. These bristles are one easy way to distinguish some of the species. This species is distinguished by the absence of the bristles.

The leaves look like they have an acute tip, but if you look carefully, especially at leaves seen from the side, you can see that most of the tips are blunt, albeit quite narrow.


See Resources for Grand Canyon Flora for further information on most of these references. Entries in the second column are either the name used in that source or a page reference. The name is linked to online pages when available. If a given reference does not contain this taxon, the entry is either left blank or contains a hyphen.

Scientific NameSelaginella mutica
1987 Grand Canyon Flora NameSelaginella mutica
1987 Grand Canyon Flora page12
SEINet Image PageSelaginella mutica
USDA PlantsSelaginella mutica
Flora of North AmericaSelaginella mutica
Jepson Manual for California treatment
Jepson Manual illustration page
Kearney and Peebles NameSelaginella mutica
Kearney and Peebles Page #28, 1035
Vascular Plants of AZ name
Vascular Plants of AZ volume: page
Huisinga et al 2006 name-
Huisinga et al 2006 page numbers-
Epple Name-
Epple description page #-
Epple pix #-
McDougall 1964 name-
McDougall 1964 page #-
Brian 2000 Name
Phillips 1979 name-
Phillips 1979 page #-
Stockert 1967 name-
Stockert 1967 page #-

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Copyright © 2007 by Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Last Update: 28 September 2007