The moss family Fissidentaceae is unusual in containing only a single genus, Fissidens. Moreover, the genus is highly distinctive in its complex leaf structure, each leaf being comprised of dorsal, apical and vaginant laminae. As a result, specimens of unfamiliar species, even sterile or depauperate, can always be identified to genus, and are thus readily retrieved from herbaria for study.
World-wide there are about 450 species in the family, of which 28 are currently recognised in New Zealand. Five of these are represented by two or more varieties here, and five taxa are currently considered to be endemic to the N.Z. Botanical Region. A further five taxa are classified as adventive, and one of these, Fissidens taxifolius, is an invasive weed. Although predominantly a family of the tropics and subtropics, 22 taxa of Fissidentaceae are known from the South Island of N.Z., and six extend to the southern offshore islands.
Fissidens species occupy a wide range of habitats. In N.Z. their range extends from sea level to above the tree line. There are taxa found at the bottom of lakes, in fast-flowing forest streams, as epiphytes on tree trunks and exposed roots, on rock, and on soil. They are a component part of a wide range of vegetation types, from indigenous forests to suburban lawns. As with most mosses, substrate and micro-habitat specificity are generally well-marked for each taxon.
Our present understanding of the Fissidentaceae in N.Z. is undoubtedly incomplete. Molecular techniques, which have yet to be applied routinely to the family, will almost certainly resolve some taxon limits and relationships that are currently obscure.
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