Stems to 1-1.5 cm. Leaves firm when wet, long-ligulate to broadly lanceolate from an oblong base, seldom ovate, 1-1.7 mm, base often elliptic, widened not strongly sheathing, margins plane or weakly recurved in proximal 1/3, apex broadly acute to rounded, entire or apiculate; costa ending 1-6 cells before the apex, rarely excurrent, abaxial costal surface with scattered solid papillae, hydroids absent; distal laminal cells firm-walled, quadrate, 8-10 µm wide, 1:1, papillose. Specialized asexual reproduction by large, spheric to elliptic, red-brown tubers born on an often dense mass of rhizoids buried in soil, 100 to 250 µm long, or in var. gallinula by large gemmae, 120-250 µm, occurring usually singly in leaf axils. Perichaetial leaves obtuse to broadly acute strongly sheathing and convolute; antheridiate plants short-stemmed (to 2 mm), appearing as buds on soil at base of archegoniate plants. Seta 1-1.8 cm. Theca 0.8-1.2 mm. Spores 10-12 µm.
Varieties 6 (3 in the flora): North America, Central America, Eurasia, Africa, Pacific Islands (New Zealand).
The yellow seta, mostly plane margins, and large tubers, when present, buried in the soil, and the operculum commonly as long as the theca readily distinguish Barbula convoluta from the similar B. unguiculata. Bryoerythrophyllum ferruginascens also has tubers, but the lamina is red in KOH solution. The small antheridiate plants that appear as buds on the soil indicate the possibility of rhizautoicy, as noted by A. Casares-Gil and A. Caballero (1919-1932, vol. 2), but, because they are usually grouped, they may have been generated on protonema of a separate spore. This is one of the few species of the family to fruit in the Arctic. When sterile, Barbula convoluta may be quickly distinguished from the hygrophile Gymnostomum aeruginosum by its leaves very deeply keeled distal to mid leaf, and leaf tips more commonly reflexed and more broadly acute or rounded. Barbula convoluta differs from B. indica by its simple papillae on the abaxial surface of the costa and the commonly papillose clear cell of the apiculus, when present. Syntrichia amplexa is occasionally mistaken for B. convoluta but is immediately identified by its recurved leaf margins and red color in KOH. Although var. eustegia is clearly a western taxon, attempting to ascribe North American sterile collections to either var. eustegia or the typical variety (or fertile collections to any European variety with consistency in character combination) is presently futile (R. H. Zander 1997).
Specialized asexual reproduction, when present. as spheric tubers on proximal rhizoids buried in soil. Perichaetial leaves highly differentiated, closely sheathing, apex obtuse to rounded and laminal cells mostly rhomboid and smooth throughout.
Capsules mature spring-summer (Mar-Aug, Jun). Rock, soil, sand, thin soil on rock, gravel, lava, cement, often associated with limestone or dolomite, bricks and mortar, walls, stumps, woods, fields; low to high elevations (10-3300 m); Greenland; Alta., B.C., Man., N.B., Nfld. and Labr. (Nfld.), N.S., Ont., Que., Sask., Yukon; Ala., Alaska, Ariz., Ark., Calif., Colo., Fla., Ga., Idaho, Ill., Ind., Kans., Ky., La., Maine, Md., Mass., Mich., Minn., Miss., Mo., Mont., N.H., N.J., N.Mex., N.Y., N.C., N.Dak., Ohio, Okla., Oreg., Pa., S.C., S.Dak., Tenn., Vt., Va., Wash., W.Va., Wis.; Central America; Eurasia; Pacific Islands (New Zealand).
Fruiting specimens of var. convoluta with characteristic perichaetial leaves are not uncommon in the far West, and are often robust in stature. The Illinois record is from J. A. McCleary and P. L. Redfearn Jr. (1979). Many collections cited from Florida are actually Barbula indica.
Specialized asexual reproduction, when present, as spheric tubers on proximal rhizoids buried in soil. Perichaetial leaves weakly differentiated, loosely sheathing, apex abruptly acute to subulate and laminal cells often quadrate and papillose in distal 1/4.
Capsules mature late spring, summer-fall (May, Jun, Jul, Oct). Sandy banks, soil, logs, in pine woods, shores; low to high elevations (50-3100 m); B.C.; Calif., Idaho, Ill., Mont., Oreg., Tex., Utah, Wash.
Variety eustegia has the same gametophytic characteristics as the typical variety, including perigoniate buds on the soil at the base of the archegoniophores and the large rhizoid-borne tubers in the soil. Barbula sect. Convolutae in Europe has apparently differentiated into a number of distinct species and varieties, as discussed by K. G. Limpricht ([1884-]1890-1903, vol. 2) and A. Casares-Gil and A. Caballero (1919-1932, vol. 2), most of which, however, are not found in the flora area (R. H. Zander 1979). Plants in the type collection of var. eustegia are smaller than average for the species, but other collections (e.g., types of B. whitehouseae and B. chrysopoda) may have the large size of, e.g., the European var. commutata (J. Juratzka) P. T. Husnot. Large plants of any variety growing in mesic environments are more likely to have recurved leaf margins. Although W. C. Steere (1938) and H. A. Crum (1965c) have commented on the similarity of this taxon to the European B. enderesii Garovaglio (as B. flavipes Bruch & Schimper), specimens of the latter I have seen commonly have narrowly acuminate leaves (but the same small antheridiate plants). Three specimens: Utah, Salt Lake County, Flowers 3151, 7291, COLO; and British Columbia, Vancouver Island, Schofield 28431, DUKE) are clearly intermediates in the important characters distinguishing between var. convoluta and var. eustegia.