Plants pale to dark green, sometimes becoming brownish to blackish, particularly in older parts, scattered to forming dense mats. Stems monomorphic or dimorphic, erect, usually becoming decumbent, unbranched and branched; axillary hyaline nodules present or absent, when present composed of 1-3 enlarged, bulging, hyaline cells arranged linearly (larger, multicellular, protruding); epidermal and subepidermal cells small, incrassate, pigmented or not, or enlarged, thin-walled, hyaline; cortical cells larger, thin-walled, hyaline; central strand present or absent; rhizoids tan to reddish, basal and axillary, usually smooth, infrequently papillose; axillary hairs 1-seriate, filiform. Leaves in few to numerous pairs, pinnately or palmately arranged, changing little to strongly crispate when dry, ovate to linear-lanceolate; vaginant laminae mostly acute, equal, ending on or near margin, or unequal, minor lamina ending between costa and margin, or, particularly in perichaetial leaves, rounded and free distally or narrowed and ending on or near costa; margin entire to serrate, marginal cells often differentiated into a limbidium; costa usually distinct, infrequently obscured, variable in length, absent or nearly so to short-excurrent, variable in structure (bryoides-type, oblongifolius-type, taxifolius-type; laminal cells usually eguttulate, rarely guttulate, 1-stratose, or 2-stratose in patches, rarely 3- or more stratose, smooth, plane, bulging, mammillose, 1-papillose, or pluripapillose, small, firm-walled, rounded to irregularly hexagonal, changing little when dry, to large, thin-walled, hexagonal to oblong cells, usually shrunken when dry [rarely prosenchymatous]. Specialized asexual reproduction uncommon [by globose, multicellular, subterranean gemmae (tubers) or axillary, stalked, multicellular, clavate or filiform gemmae], rarely by chlorophyllose, branched filaments at bases of leaves. Sexual condition dioicous, autoicous, or rarely synoicous. Perigonia gemmiform, axillary, or at bases of stems, or sometimes scattered among persistent protonemata on substratum, or terminal on longer stems. Perichaetia terminal on main stems and long branches, or terminal on short axillary branches. Seta 1-2 [rarely more], smooth [papillose], straight or flexuous, yellow when young, darkening with age, or reddish. Capsule usually exserted, theca erect or infrequently ± inclined, infrequently arcuate, radially or Stems of a few species of Fissidens (F. arcticus, F. curvatus, F. scalaris, F. sublimbatus, F. taylorii) are here described as dimorphic: the fertile (perichaetial) stems are conspicuously shorter with fewer pairs of leaves than the infertile stems. Axillary hyaline nodules are arrested branch primordia, discussed in detail by Z. Iwatsuki and R. A. Pursell (1980). These structures are weakly developed in species found in the Western Hemisphere, but are well developed in some African and Asian species. Most species in the flora area have small, incrassate epidermal and subepidermal cells that are usually pigmented. One species, F. hyalinus, however, has large, thin-walled, hyaline epidermal and subepidermal cells that collapse when dry. Most species in the flora area have pinnately arranged leaves on elongate stems. Short-stemmed expressions of F. amoenus, F. closteri, F. exilis, F. hyalinus, F. serratus, and F. zollingeri have leaves palmately arranged.
In the majority of species in the flora area the vaginant laminae where joined at their distal ends form an angle of less than 90°, a condition referred to as acute. In most species the vaginant laminae are unequal in size, the smaller of the two is the minor lamina, while the larger is the major lamina, which appears to be a continuation of the ventral lamina. Vaginant laminae are equal in size when their juncture ends on the leaf margin. The vaginant laminae can be fused along the entire length of their distal ends, or the distal end of the minor lamina can be rounded and free (as in Fissidens asplenioides) or narrowed toward the costa, ending on or near the costa (as in F. exilis). These last two conditions are particularly common in perichaetial leaves.
Marginal leaf cells in some species in the flora area are differentiated into a limbidium, a band of 1-stratose to multistratose, hyaline to yellowish, prosenchymatous stereid cells. A stereid cell is elongate, typically has sharply pointed ends, and has a wall thicker than the diameter of the lumen. The limbidium is expressed on all laminae in Fissidens appalachensis, F. bryoides, F. crispus, F. curvatus, F. hyalinus, F. minutulus, F. ventricosus, and F. zollingeri. In F. arcticus, F. obtusifolius, F. scalaris, F. sublimbatus, and F. taylorii the limbidium is developed best on the vaginant laminae but can be found on the other laminae, particularl