Bryomonitoring Canada

How to

Pick and Package: Sampling your moss

Once you’ve found the right moss, it’s time to sample it.  The following methods are based on the ICP Vegetation Moss Survey Manual 2020.

Materials and equipment

You will need:

If you requested a kit to be mailed to you when you selected a grid to sample, you should have received brown paper lunch bags, gloves, field sheets and identification guides with a return envelope enclosed.  If you are making your own kit, be sure to see our guide for making your own kit. If you are sampling at more than one site in a grid or at more than one grid, please ensure sampling sites are at least 20 km apart. Always follow the current Covid-19 regulations in your province or territory when sampling.


Site characteristics

If you volunteer to sample more than one location within a grid, please try to make the locations at least 20 km away from each other to get a good spatial distribution within the grid area. At each location, you will want to sample your moss from within an area approximately 50 x 50 m and record your coordinates from the center of the plot. Try to sample moss shoots from at least 5 different points within that 50 x 50 m plot, to best capture the whole area.

Sample in non-urban natural areas, such as grasslands or forests. Typically, our mosses can be found in areas that have been disturbed but are in recovery, such as previously clear cut areas, hydro cuts, old pasture fields, and former access paths. In forested areas, it is ideal to sample from a clearing in a forest, although we know that this is not always possible in densely forested areas. If possible, select moss shoots that are not directly under the branches of a tree. It’s best if the mosses receive direct rainfall, rather than being shielded by other plants.

Check out the photos to the left to see examples of suitable sampling sites found by our volunteers!

Avoid sampling beneath shrubs, right beside running water (e.g. rivers, creeks), in wetlands (e.g. swamps or bogs) and adjacent to roadways. Please sample at least 300 m from highways, villages and industries (including industrial farming) and at least 100 m away from smaller roads and houses. If you have accessed your plot from a walking trail, please sample well off the trail (50 m) to avoid potential contaminants from fellow hikers or their pets!

Please follow the current Covid-19 regulations for your province or territory when selecting your sampling site.

Field sampling

Note: You can sample either or both species if present (stair-step moss or red-stemmed feather moss), but please submit different species in separate bags!

  • Fill out the field sheet using a pencil
  • Locate at least 5 patches of mosses within your  50 x 50 m area
  • Note down the coordinates of the center of your area on your field sheet
  • Prepare the brown paper lunch bag by using a sharpie to label the grid name, coordinates, name and date
  • Wearing gloves, open the paper bag
  • Sample the moss by picking the moss at the base of a stem
  • Remove any debris (litter, soil, etc) from the moss and then remove the lower brown/black sections of the moss. Think: CLEAN AND GREEN!
  • Place the moss sample into the paper lunch bag
  • Continue to sample moss until the paper lunch bag is 1/3 full, ensuring that all moss samples are taken within a 50 x 50 m area.


Once your bag is 1/3 full, tightly close the paper lunch bag by rolling down the top several times for transportation. 

If sampled moss is wet, open the top portion of the paper lunch bag, allowing the moss to air dry. Transfer the dry moss into another dry paper bag and close tightly.

Note:  Do not store the sample in a plastic bag, such as a Ziploc!  It is important that the sample be allowed to dry right away.  Wet moss can develop mold very quickly, which destroys the sample.  Even if the moss seems dry, storing it in a plastic bag or container can still cause mold to develop.  Don’t forget to relabel the bag!

Store the paper bag away from the light at room temperature until ready to place into envelope to mail back.

Pick and Package Video

Kayla Wilkins demonstrates how to sample and send in your moss.

Key points to remember:

  • Before heading into the field, Reserve Your Turf
  • Fill out the field sheet, including coordinates, and label your sandwich bag before you pick
  • Wear gloves
  • Pick CLEAN and GREEN!
  • Fill the bag 1/3 full
  • Allow moss to DRY before shipping
  • PACKAGE: include only your labelled moss sample and the field sheet in the return envelope

It's a 3 Step Process!

Ready to head out to the field and sample? Make you sure you’ve Reserved Your Turf and can Spot Your Moss! Thank you for volunteering for Bryomonitoring Canada!


Reserve your turf

Sign up to sample a spot anywhere across Canada.


Spot your moss

Search for two common species of moss. They’re easy to spot once you know how!


Pick and Package

Send it to us for analysis in our lab.