After over a year of using my moss identification guides to identify various mosses, I think I’m ready to do at least one post on them. I’m fairly confident that the following plants are what I think they are, but I don’t have access to a microscope so none of this information should be taken as absolute gospel. Information about the guides I’ve used can be found under the “Books I Use” tab at the top of the page.
My thoughts usually turn to mosses and other forest floor dwellers at this time of year because they’re so easy to see with no leaves in the way. Instead of roots mosses have small, thread like rhizoids. Since they can’t take up water like vascular plants they absorb it like a sponge over their entire surface, and when they’re seen in abundance as in the above photo, it’s a fair bet that the soil is either quite moist or the area is shaded enough to keep them from drying out between rains. Though some mosses can go for quite a while with no water, most need regular replenishment. Like lichens, mosses can look very different when they are dry, so serious moss hunters like to do their hunting after a rain.
Since I’ve never paid very close attention to mosses I never realized that some of them, like rose moss, had leaves that are quite big-easily big enough to be seen with the naked eye-and can be quite beautiful. Rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) gets its common name from the way its rosettes of leaves look like tiny flowers. When rose moss dries out its leaves contort and fold upward like petals of flowers that close at night. I found a large colony of this moss growing on a boulder.
Pocket moss gets its common name from the way the lower lobe of its leaf curls around its stem to form a pocket. That feature can’t be seen in the photo and neither can the way the central nerve, or vein of each leaf stops before it reaches the leaf tip, but those two features plus the fact that the example in the photo was constantly dripped on by ground water tell me that this is maidenhair pocket moss (Fissidens adianthoides).
The capsules where some mosses produce spores are called sporophytes. In the case of maiden hair pocket moss the capsules are like a tiny barrel that is covered on one end by a calyptra, which is a piece of tissue that looks like a stocking cap. When the spores mature the calyptra dries out and falls off, but before it does the fruiting bodies of this moss remind me of cranes. Or herons. Under the tiny stocking cap is a lid (operculum) that also comes off so the spores can be released. This happens at different times of year for different mosses.
The name medusa moss (Hedwigia ciliata) comes from the way this moss looks like a bunch of tangled worms when it dries out. This moss is fairly common but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it grow quite as long as it was here. It was obviously in a good location for optimum growth.
This is a closer look at the Hedwigia ciliata in the previous photo. It is also called white tipped moss and is almost always found growing on large boulders in the woods.
The last time I saw a dog lichen it was growing on a rotting stump but this one, Peltigera membranacea, was growing on a mossy boulder. Dog lichens are associated with mossy area because the mosses provide the moisture that they need. This is known as a membranous lichen, which simply means that it is thin and pliable. It is also a foliose lichen, meaning that it is lobed, or leaf like. The upper part of the body (Thallus) is undulating or veined as seen in the photo. This lichen was large and easy to see. It was also probably quite old.
The white “roots” on the underside of the lichen body are called rhizines. On some lichens these can be quite bushy but on Peltigera membranacea they are narrow, thin and “fang like”. They are one of the identifying characteristics of this lichen along with its thin, flexible, undulating thallus.
I’ve heard another theory behind the name “dog lichen.” It says that the name refers to the large, lobed body of the lichen looking like dog ears. It sounds plausible, but so do the other three theories I’ve heard. One says the fang like rhizines look like dog’s teeth, another says the entire lichen body looks like a dog, and yet another says that the apothecia, or fruiting bodies, look like dog ears.
Fern allies are “seedless vascular plants that are not true ferns, but like ferns, disperse by shedding spores.” Mosses don’t fit this description because, though they produce spores, they are not vascular. Club mosses fit the description perfectly and are called “club” mosses because their fruiting structures (strobili) are club shaped. These club shaped, cone-like structures are where the spores are produced. The club moss in the photo, known as fan shaped club moss (Diphasiastrum digitatum), doesn’t have any strobili showing. In fact, as I was choosing the photos for this post I realized that I have never seen this club moss in its fruiting stage.
Another club moss that I have never seen fruiting is running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum). This plant gets its name from the way it sends out long, horizontal stems. All along the horizontal stem erect stems form at intervals and roots form where it touches the ground. I had to brush the leaves away from the horizontal stem so we could see it, because when it’s buried it’s difficult to tell this club moss from others. I can’t say that these plants are rare here, but I don’t see them too often.
Baby tooth moss (Plagiomnium cuspidatum) doesn’t look like a moss at all to me, with its long, vining habit and (relatively) large leaves, but it is one. Though far too small to be seen in the photo, this moss gets its common name from the way the upper margins of the leaves are toothed. The cuspidatum part of the scientific name comes from cuspid, which comes from the Latin cuspis and which means a tooth with a single point, like a canine tooth. It is said that this moss is very common in eastern North America, but I can’t remember ever seeing it before I took this photo. It grows in moist hardwood forests on stones, logs, or soil.
Brocade is a “heavy fabric interwoven with a rich, raised design” and that description really fits brocade moss (Hypnum imponens), which always looks to me like it was embroidered by elves or some other forest dwellers. This moss, with its orange, yellow, and brown highlights and fern or feather like shape is one of the easiest to identify. It forms dense mats on moist ground. This moss was once used as stuffing for mattresses and pillows and the Hypnum part of the scientific name comes from the word Hypnos, name of the Greek god of sleep.
A good example of why botanists use scientific names instead of common names is this moss, Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus. Its common names are shaggy moss, plaited shaggy moss, big shaggy moss, rough goose neck moss, rough neck moss, and even electrified cat’s tail moss. I kid you not. Apparently someone thought that if you somehow plugged in a cat its tail would look just like this moss.
When I saw how pale this yellow feather moss (Homalothecium lutescens) was I thought it was sick, but this is the way it is supposed to look. It has kind of a loose, airy look that I like. It’s also called ragged yellow moss and fossil evidence has been found that dates it as far back as the Pleistocene epoch, from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago.
Our minds, as well as our bodies, have need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits, too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and the wind and the rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfumes of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among the trees.~ Edwin Way Teale
Thanks for coming by.