Thursday, July 2, 2015

Moss

Some primitive plants evolved onto land from watery origins embraced by a fungus in a lichen partnership. Others organized independently as mosses.

Lichens and mosses intermingled

You will encounter both types on Halibut Point among pebbles, ledge pockets, tree mounds. Because they lack vascular structures to convey water and nutrients upward they always carpet other solid surfaces. Their strategies create some look-alike similarities in lichens and mosses.

Land reclamation, moss phase
Mosses adapting to drought fluctuations inch their way out of puddle-forming depressions in the granite. It's a desert life, flourishing in times of  water. Rain stimulates the hubbub of propagation. Spores will be thrown to the wind in the prodigal urgency of new creation.

In a detail of the photo above,
spore capsules rise above the moss body
Most mosses find it easier going in the shade. Since they don't have to muster resources for flower and seed production, nor elaborate bodily architecture, they make do with less solar energy. They prosper in filtered light and steady moisture.
Woodland moss
Mosses thrive in lean-diet niches. Various ones adjust to gritty soils, acidity extremes, and bog conditions that challenge other plants. Their anchorage does not depend on rooting into the ground. In fact, broken pieces may extend the colony.

Antheridia, the male dimension
It takes some noticing, but there are male and female parts in moss reproduction. Sperm-producing elements come forth as antheridia that are somewhat flower-like in appearance.

Prominent antheridia from moss amid lichens
Occasionally the antheridia stand out prominently, though I'm not aware that vivid color plays a role in attracting pollinators. The sperm do not have to travel far to the inconspicuous female filaments. After fertilization these rise gloriously as sporophytes to multiply moss life in all directions.

Sporophytes
The progeny leave home as single-celled wind-borne spores that destiny may bring to hospitable terrain where a miniscule filament emerges from its wall to launch the metamorphoses that result in more moss.

A pincushion moss rising above a sward of distant relatives
How do we know a moss when we see it? On Halibut Point you might come across something popularly called 'reindeer moss' that is actually a lichen.

Cladina rangiferina, gray reindeer lichen or 'reindeer moss'
There are field guides to help, and the study of botany, and the recognition that mosses have stems, branches and (usually) narrow elongated green(ish) leaves. Foliose lichens may have leaf-like parts but they are composite organisms where the green parts (algae and/or cyanobacteria) are tucked within layers of an earth-toned fungus.

Except in rare cases it's not hard to tell these two classes apart. Verification of a particular species may require magnification and experience.
Fern frond above moss carpet
Mosses share space with ferns when they have similar growing conditions. Ferns, on a complexity scale, are at the lower end of vascular plants. Mosses are at the upper end of non-vascular plants. They both propagate by spores.

Canada mayflower surrounded by moss
You can see vascular vessels in this Canada mayflower leaf. Xylem and phloem, the sap conduits in trees, allow some vascular plants to attain great heights.

Moss carpets and dignifies other plants that it underlies. It counters the general tangle of nature. It feels good to the touch.
Its qualities of proportion and behavior, of steady deferential service, of fine-textured complementarity to larger expressions, make moss an ideal element of Zen gardens and the moments of Nature they emulate.
Moss on a quarry rim, Halibut Point

 

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