Plants in loose tufts, green to yellowish green or yellowish brown, dull. Stems 2-11 cm, densely tomentose below with reddish brown rhizoids, inter-ruptedly foliate, the leaves crowded in some parts forming swollen, globose regions. Leaves erect-spreading, arched and loosely imbricate with contorted apices when dry, ± undulate to rugose, (2.5-)5-6.5(-9) × 1-1.7 mm, concave below, tubulose above, acute, ovate at base, widest point at or somewhat below middle; margins serrulate to serrate in distal half, plane to involute; laminae 1-stratose or with 2-stratose regions near costa and on margins; costa percurrent to shortly excurrent, 1/8-1/4 the width of the leaves at base, serrulate or toothed above on abaxial surface, abaxial ridges absent, with a row of guide cells, two stereid bands extending to apex, adaxial epidermal layer of cells not differentiated, the abaxial layer differentiated; cell walls between lamina cells weakly to strongly bulging; leaf cells strongly papillose above on abaxial surface, sometimes a few papillae on adaxial surface; alar cells 2-stratose, distinctly differentiated, not extending to costa; proximal laminal cells elongate, pitted, (30-)49-68(-101) × (5-)10-11(-15) µm, abruptly shorter in distal half of leaf; distal laminal cells short, not or indistinctly pitted, cell walls irregularly thickened, (7-)11-12(-23) × (5-)7-13(-20) µm. Sexual condition pseudomonoicous; dwarf males on rhizoids of female plants; interior perichaetial leaves abruptly short-acuminate, convolute-sheathing. Seta 1-3 cm, solitary, reddish yellow or brown. Capsule 1.5-2.5 mm, arcuate, inclined to horizontal, contracted below mouth and furrowed when dry, yellowish brown to brown; operculum 1.5-2.5 mm. Spores 16-24 µm.
Capsules mature spring. Sandy soil, decayed logs, acidic rock, humus over exposed bluffs or outcrops, in pine woods, sometimes bogs; 0-1400 m; Nfld. and Labr. (Nfld.), N.S., Ont., P.E.I., Que.; Ark., Conn., Ga., Ill., Ky., Maine, Md., Mass., Mich., Mo., N.H., N.J., N.Y., N.C., Ohio, Okla., Pa., Tenn., Vt., Va., W.Va.; Europe.
Dicranum spurium is easily recognized by the turgid aspect of the plants with arched, imbricate leaves and with interruptedly foliate stems, i.e., some regions that appear swollen or globose as a result of several growth periods. It is likely to be confused only with 11. D. condensatum (see discussion thereunder).