CPC Plant Profile: Flowering Pixie-moss
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Plant Profile

Flowering Pixie-moss (Pyxidanthera barbulata)

The 5-8 mm-wide, white to rose-colored flowers are distinctive and characteristic of their family, with widely separated petals surrounding a slender style. Photo Credit: Dorothy Long
Description
  • Global Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Diapensiaceae
  • State: NC, NJ, NY, SC, VA
  • Nature Serve ID: 128786
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 02/25/1988

Pyxidanthera barbulata is a diminutive, creeping evergreen sub-shrub that forms dense mats sprinkled with delicate white-pink flowers. A mat-forming, woody, evergreen sub-shrub with needle-like, pine-green leaves that are hairy near their bases, pixie-moss' flowers are distinctive and characteristic of the family, with widely separated petals surrounding a slender style encircled in the protruding, inflexed anthers. Its prostrate growth form and crowded tiny leaves allow the plant to conserve water in the very xeric habitats in which it occurs.

Participating Institutions
Updates
  • 10/17/2020
  • Demographic Research

Habitat associations are described by Wells and Shunk (1931) and Good and Good (1975), but specific habitat requirements of the taxon have not been determined

  • 10/17/2020
  • Genetic Research

Taxonomy and intraspecific variability are treated by Primack and Wyatt (1975) and Kral (1983)

  • 10/17/2020
  • Living Collection

The Norcross Sanctuary in Monson, Massachusetts, has Pyxidanthera barbulata in its rare plant collection, as does Eastern Plant Specialties in Georgetown, Maine

  • 10/17/2020
  • Living Collection

The Norcross Sanctuary in Monson, Massachusetts, has Pyxidanthera barbulata in its rare plant collection, as does Eastern Plant Specialties in Georgetown, Maine

  • 10/17/2020
  • Propagation Research

The New England Wild Flower Society maintains populations of Pyxidanthera barbulata at its garden in Framingham, Massachusetts. They have also conducted germination trials, finding that fresh seed will germinate without a cold treatment. Germinating dried seed is problematic, and seeds do not remain viable in a seed bank. Plants can be propagated from tissue culture, but growth is slow and mortality is high. Stem cuttings can be rooted, but frequently die.

  • 10/17/2020
  • Living Collection

The New England Wild Flower Society maintains populations of Pyxidanthera barbulata at its garden in Framingham, Massachusetts. They have also conducted germination trials, finding that fresh seed will germinate without a cold treatment. Germinating dried seed is problematic, and seeds do not remain viable in a seed bank. Plants can be propagated from tissue culture, but growth is slow and mortality is high. Stem cuttings can be rooted, but frequently die.

  • 10/17/2020
  • Living Collection

Brooklyn Botanic Garden was able to keep a number of plants alive and on display in the Native Flora Garden, however the plants proved to be short lived. Further experimentation with site selection and soil characteristics is needed so that this species can be successfully cultivated in a garden setting.

Uli Lorimer
  • 02/13/2019

Brooklyn Botanic Garden was able to keep a number of plants alive and on display in the Native Flora Garden, however the plants proved to be short lived. Further experimentation with site selection and soil characteristics is needed so that this species can be successfully cultivated in a garden setting. 

Uli Lorimer
  • 02/13/2019

This species requires open habitat to survive and is frequently encountered in NJ along the edges of sand roads and hiking trails. As such, it is negatively impacted by recreational activities like off road vehicles, motorcycles, and foot traffic. 

Uli Lorimer
  • 02/13/2019

Pyxidanthera barbulata is currently listed as S1 by New York Natural Heritage and is recorded from 1 county in New York State.

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

In a moderately restricted range along the east coast from Long Island south to New Jersey and from southeast Virginia south to northern South Carolina (Kartesz 1999, Weakley 2000). Pyxidanthera barbulata grows in wet sands and peaty sands in pine barrens, pine savannas, pine flatwoods, pocosin margins, and at the edges of sandhill seepage bogs (Hough 1983, Weakley 2000). It is frequent in New Jersey and North Carolina but rare in the rest of its range.

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Conversion of coastal plain habitat for residential and agricultural development Fire suppression, leading to succession by woody vegetation that outcompetes Pyxidanthera barbulata for light

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Pyxidanthera barbulata is recorded from 22 counties in North Carolina, 2 counties in South Carolina, and 3 counties in Virginia (USDA 2001). The status and distribution of this species in New Jersey is uncertain, as reflected in the state rank of S; however, it is known from at least two sites in Ocean County, NJ. No estimates for total population numbers are currently available.

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Taxonomy and intraspecific variability are treated by Primack and Wyatt (1975) and Kral (1983) Habitat associations are described by Wells and Shunk (1931) and Good and Good (1975), but specific habitat requirements of the taxon have not been determined The New England Wild Flower Society maintains populations of Pyxidanthera barbulata at its garden in Framingham, Massachusetts. They have also conducted germination trials, finding that fresh seed will germinate without a cold treatment. Germinating dried seed is problematic, and seeds do not remain viable in a seed bank. Plants can be propagated from tissue culture, but growth is slow and mortality is high. Stem cuttings can be rooted, but frequently die. The Norcross Sanctuary in Monson, Massachusetts, has Pyxidanthera barbulata in its rare plant collection, as does Eastern Plant Specialties in Georgetown, Maine

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

The U.S. Army regularly monitors populations Fort Bragg and Camp Mackall in North Carolina (Fort Bragg Endangered Species Branch 2001) The South Carolina Division of Forest Resources has removed scrub oaks in certain longleaf pine stands to restore habitat for Pyxidanthera barbulata, the red-cockaded woodpecker, and the pine-wiregrass ecosystem.

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

A number of studies would be beneficial to the conservation of this species, including: Studies of the impacts of fire on seed germination, seedling recruitment, and plant competition Research to identify pollinators and determine if pollinator limitation or inbreeding depression may affect populations Studies of the mechanisms of its seed dispersal Research on the responses of Pyxidanthera barbulata to variable hydrological regimes, and its capacity for seed-banking during successive dry years

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Studies of seed storage, germination physiology, and plant propagation are needed.

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Nomenclature
Taxon Pyxidanthera barbulata
Authority Michx.
Family Diapensiaceae
CPC Number 7047
ITIS 23798
USDA PYBA
Common Names Flowering Moss | Flowering Pixie-moss | Pixie-moss | flowering pixiemoss
Associated Scientific Names Pyxidanthera barbulata var. barbulata | Pyxidanthera barbulata
Distribution Pyxidanthera barbulata occurs from southern Long Island to South Carolina along the coastal plain. Its distribution appears somewhat disjunct, as there are no current or historical records for the taxon.
State Rank
State State Rank
North Carolina SNR
New Jersey SNR
New York SNR
South Carolina SNR
Virginia S1
Habitat

Pyxidanthera barbulata is found in droughty, acidic sandy soils under an open or thin canopy of pines. Although it is typically described from xeric habitats, the plant is termed a facultative wetland associate (USDA 2001), and listed with keys to aquatic and wetland plants (Godfrey and Wooten 1981). Wells and Shunk (1931) record it from "coarse sand areas of low relief having a high water table for extended periods alternating with depressed water table in drought years." Thus, the plant can tolerate a broad range of hydrological conditions. The morph occupying xeric environments was once thought to be a separate species or variety (brevifolia) from P. barbulata (Wells and Shunk 1931, Kral 1983), but other treatments recognize this variation as intraspecific plasticity and circumscribe the populations as one species (Primack and Wyatt 1975).

On Long Island, Pyxidanthera barbulata occupies the back-dunes of the southern back-barrier of the moraine, in stands of scattered pitch pine, Pinus rigida.

In the coastal plain of New Jersey, the plant is typically found in the dwarf pine plains of the eastern Pinelands, characterized by pitch pines under 3 m tall, along with blackjack and scrub oak (Quercus marilandica and Q. ilicifolia), with a sparse understory layer of sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina), sand-myrtle (Leiophyllum buxifolium), wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens), and patches of broom crowberry (Corema conradii) and false heather (Hudsonia ericoides) (Good et al. 1979, Obee 1994).

Pyxidanthera barbulata is noted from tracts containing the northernmost longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) in the east (Sheridan et al. 2001), and occurs on xeric, thinly wooded, sterile sands under longleaf pine in mainland and barrier beach areas of North Carolina (Harper et al. 1997).

In South Carolina, the species is recorded from the sandhills region.

Ecological Relationships

Very little information has been published on the ecological relationships of Pyxidanthera barbulata beyond basic habitat associations. The Diapensaceae family consists of four genera that are monotypic in eastern North America (Gleason and Cronquist 1991). Pyxidanthera barbulata shares anatomical and architectural features in common with Diapensia lapponica (a low, creeping plant of alpine summits) and Galax aphylla (which spans the Appalachian mountains to the southeastern coastal plain). From their studies in North Carolina, Wells and Shunk (1931) thought the taxon was "a relict species surviving today wholly on a basis of vegetative growth." They found no seedlings in the field, despite exhaustive searches, and their attempts to germinate seeds were unsuccessful. Low germination rates could contribute to the plant's rarity, and seed germination may be cued to fire. Pyxidanthera barbulata is found in communities that burn frequently, and may require fire either to physiologically stimulate germination or to open the canopy (Obee 1994, Jordan et al. 1995, Harper et al. 1997). Flowering times are listed as April to May (Gleason and Cronquist 1991). Information on pollinators is lacking, but insects are likely vectors, given the flower morphology. Seed dispersal agents are unknown.

Pollinators
Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID
Bees
Bees Confirmed Pollinator Link
Sweat bees Halictus Confirmed Pollinator Link
Sweat bees Augochlorella aurata Confirmed Pollinator Link
Sweat bees Sphecodes Floral Visitor Link
Mining bees Andrena Floral Visitor Link
Anthophorine bees Emphoropsis laboriosa laboriosa Confirmed Pollinator Link
Honey bees Apis melifera Confirmed Pollinator Link
Cellophane bees Colletes Confirmed Pollinator Link
Butterflies & Moths
Hairstreaks Incisalia augustus Floral Visitor Link
Twirler moths Aristotelia roseosuffusella Floral Visitor Link
Flies
Syrphid flies Toxomerus marginatus Suspected Pollinator Floral Link
Syrphid flies Toxomerus graminatus Suspected Pollinator Floral Link
Dance flies Hilara baculifer Suspected Pollinator Floral Link
Blow flies Caliphora vomitoria Confirmed Pollinator Link
Blow flies Phaenicia Confirmed Pollinator Link
Tachinid flies Gonia Confirmed Pollinator Link
Freeloader flies Leptometopa latipes Floral Visitor Link
Tachinid flies Catharosia nebulosa Confirmed Pollinator Link
Root-maggot flies Hylemya platura Floral Visitor Link
Other
wasps Confirmed Pollinator Link
ants Confirmed Pollinator Link
Monomorium minutum Floral Visitor Link
Odorous ants Tapinoma Floral Visitor Link
Argentine ants Linepithema humilis Confirmed Pollinator Link
Honeypot ants Prenolepis imparis Confirmed Pollinator Link
Parasitoid wasps Calosota metallica Floral Visitor Link
Scoliid wasps Campsomeris plumipes fossulana Confirmed Pollinator Link
Parasitoid wasps Consura Floral Visitor Link

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