It is traditional not to leave anyone out at Christmas. If we carry that spirit forward to the plant world, then mosses should certainly not be left out of any Advent botany blog. Mosses thrive in damp, wintery conditions when there is little else about. Plant blindness and ignorance reach fever pitch when it comes to mosses. Mosses are all around us. Grab a hand lens. Examine mosses under a microscope. There’s a fascinating, new world right under your feet.
Land’s First Arrivals
Mosses are bryophytes, along with liverworts and hornworts. They are non-flowering, non-vascular plants. Boring? Not a bit of it. They offer a complex, alien-like world that has been on planet Earth for a very long time. Forty-seven billion years ago, the very first land plants resembled mosses.
Unexpected Beauty of Mosses
Quite apart from looking great on closer inspection, mosses and liverworts often have great-sounding common, Latin and order names. Watch out Pokémon! You are about to be trumped… Here are 8 examples in keeping with the Christmassy winter theme:
- Snow Threadwort, Pleurocladula albescens
- Handsome Woollywort, Trichocolea tomentella
- Fairy Beads, Microlejeunea ulicina
- Spruce’s Rustwort, Marsupella sprucei
Dicranales: Goblin Gold, Schistostega pennata
Hypnales: Glittering Wood-moss, Hylocomium splendens
- False Beard-moss, Didymodon fallax
- Swan-necked Earth-moss, Microbryum curvicolle
Once you start looking, you will realise that mosses are everywhere: on trees, soil, rock, walls and pavements. Tarmac, brick and concrete does not hold them back. They are not parasites. They do not harm their host.
The United Kingdom has over 1,000 bryophytes. They are of global significance, and yet, their undisturbed habitats are under serious threat.
Gardeners and Mosses
Gardeners do not like mosses and resort to chemicals to get rid of them. A better approach would be to deal with the underlying causes. Poor drainage, water logging and soil compaction are the root of the problem. Given the rapid onset of climate change, it is advisable to welcome the existence of moss in our surroundings.
By contrast with British gardeners, the Japanese like and encourage mosses in their gardens. British gardeners try to conquer Nature, whereas the Japanese try to coexist with it. They appreciate the asymmetrical imperfections as moss gathers over time.
Nature’s Beneficial Sponges
Mosses have an extraordinary ability to soak up water. If you step off the tarmac path in the woodland above Bergen in Norway, a thick moss carpet oozes water. It feels as if you are standing on a large, water-filled sponge. Mosses could play an important role in dealing with climate-related flash flooding in the United Kingdom.
There’s climate trouble ahead. Mosses could prove to be great friends.
© Karen Netto (Andrews)
These pages illustrate my love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. I love sharing. This blog is a showcase for my own photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics.
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