One of the things that I like about this time of year is how the all the mosses are suddenly so easy to see, so this is when I go visiting them. Mosses call to me and make me want to know more about what I’m seeing, so I’ve been studying them for a few years. If a scene like the one in the above photo gets your blood pumping, this post is for you. I’ve been both wanting to do it and dreading it for a while now. If you’ve ever tried to identify mosses I’m sure you understand.
Delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) changes from deep green to lime green when it gets cold and then eventually becomes one of the more visible mosses. It grows in soil in shaded spots and I find it in my lawn each fall. It will also grow on the base of trees and on logs and boulders. It forms quite dense mats as can be seen in the above photo. Orchid growers use this moss in orchid cultivation.
This moss growing on the base of a tree almost had me fooled into thinking that it was tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates) but a closer look has me believing that it must be rambling tail moss (Anomodon viticulosus) instead. This moss is too long to be tree skirt moss, I think, and its habit of growing out away from the trunk isn’t right for that moss either. The main stems of rambling tail-moss are said to be creeping with blunt ends like a paintbrush, and they arch upward when dry like a hook. That and their yellow green color are what lead me to choose Anomodon viticulosus, but I could be wrong.
Common haircap moss (Polytrichum commune) is one of the most common and also one of the largest mosses in this area, and that makes them easy to identify and study. I find them growing in soil just about everywhere I go.
Last year I found a blue haircap moss spore capsule but this year the best I could do was salmon pink. These capsules are rectangular in shape with corners and often sunken sides as the photo shows. The light colored ring on its end is called a peristome and has 64 tiny teeth around its inside diameter, which is measured in micrometers. The teeth can’t be seen in this photo and neither can the cap, called a calyptra, which protects the spores and in this instance is hairy, and which is what gives this moss its common name. When the spores are ready to be released the calyptra falls off and the spores are borne on the wind.
Red penny moss (Rhizomnium punctatum) is a very small but leafy moss that was renamed from Mnium punctatum. I find it growing in deep shade in the soaking wet soil of seeps. It is a forest moss but only in very wet areas that don’t easily allow kneeling for a photo.
On male red penny moss plants in the center of the leaf rosettes are what look like tiny blackberries. These are actually the antheridia, which are where the sperm is produced. When mature the sperm will wait for a rainy day and then will swim to a female plant. Once fertilized the female plant will produce spores and send them off on the wind.
It looks like apple mosses (Bartramia pomiformis) are growing white whiskers for winter. Do they always do this, I wonder? Maybe I’ve just never noticed, but since this is one of the easier to see mosses I don’t know how I could have missed it. I’ve looked in my moss books and on line and can’t find another example with white tips, but on this day I saw many. This moss gets its common name from its spherical spore capsules that some say look like tiny green apples.
In her book Gathering Moss author Robin Wall Kimmerer tells of an experiment where chipmunks were coaxed into running over some sticky paper. When the paper was examined it was found to have thousands of moss spores stuck to it, so if you’ve ever wondered how mosses get 100 feet up in the tree tops thank a chipmunk, because the spores stick to their feet. And squirrel’s feet too, I’m guessing. Of course, wind and rain also carry spores so rodents don’t have to do all the work. The above photo is of tiny green moss islands I found on the trunk of a tree, and I think it shows the spores just becoming recognizable plants. I wish I’d seen that lichen on the right with rose colored apothecia when I took this photo. It’s a beauty.
I think the moss islands in the previous photo will turn into something like this clump of crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa.) This moss is very common on tree trunks in these parts and I see it all the time. When dry its leaves tighten and curl. This clump was about an inch across.
Some mosses are so animal like they make you want to reach out and pet them. This broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) is one of those that I had to touch before I left it. This moss grows on stone, wood or soil in sunnier places and it’s common here.
Another very beautiful moss is rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum,) shown here growing against the dark shine of a dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea) on a boulder. Each little rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Rose moss is a good indicator of limestone in the soil so it’s wise to look for other lime loving plants when it is found. Many native orchids for instance, fall into that category.
The name medusa moss (Hedwigia ciliata) comes from the way this moss looks like a bunch of tangled worms when it dries out. It is also called white tipped moss, for obvious reasons. This moss is fairly common and I find it mostly growing on stones in sunny spots. It always seems to be very happy and healthy.
This is the first time this moss has appeared on this blog because I’ve only just found it. I think it might be a moss called river foxtail moss (Brachythecium rivulare) which is said to have a whitish cast. I found it growing in shade on a stone shelf where it was watered by constantly dripping ground water; exactly the habitat that river foxtail moss likes.
This moss was growing right beside the one in the previous photo but even though I tried several times it was simply too small to get a sharp photo of. Instead over and over the camera focused on the tiny water droplets that decorated it like Christmas ornaments, so that’s what I’ll show here. Everything seen in this photo would easily fit on a penny (.75 inches.)
Pleasure is spread through the earth in stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find them. ~William Wordsworth
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