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Posts Tagged ‘Delicate Fern Moss’

Last Sunday it was a warm but cloudy day when I went to the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene. I haven’t been there to do a blog post since last fall so it was time for another visit. Posts from there usually write themselves as this one did. In fact I often feel like I’m being led from one thing to another; as if there is a director off in the woods saying okay, bring him over here next, and there I find another fascinating bit of nature to show all of you. It really is amazing the way it works but I know I’m not the only one it happens to. Stories write themselves in many minds but whether or not they all include lichens, mosses, and liverworts I don’t know.

This old road was abandoned sometime around 1970 when the new highway was built but strangely, nobody I’ve talked to has been able to remember exactly when. I’m sure there must be records somewhere. As this photo shows, even though the old road is snow covered you can still see that you’re on a road by the old guard posts. Most have rotted away or been broken but in this stretch they look as if they might still keep a car out of the brook.

This post had moss capping it.

The moss on the post was one of my favorites, delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum,) which isn’t really delicate at all but it is very pretty with its fern like foliage.

If you picture a steep sided, V shaped canyon with a stream running through it you’ll have a good idea of what this place looks like. In the 1700s a road was cut through beside the stream and at one time this road carried quite a lot of traffic north out of Keene.

Beaver brook was frozen over for the most part and its normally happy giggles had been hushed down to almost a whisper.

The ice on the brook looked to be about 4-5 feet thick, and that’s because of the water rising and falling so often. Sometimes you come here and the water roars through the canyon, filling the stream banks, and at other times it’s tame, with low water flowing lazily along. If we get the warm temperatures predicted for next week it will be roaring again soon.

If you’ve ever wondered how trees get damaged in the woods, this is one way.

The tree with ice against it is in the previous photo is a golden birch (Betula alleghaniensis.) There are many of them here and they’re easily identified by their color and by the way their bark peels in shreds. These trees like it cool and moist and are often found near streams and ponds. They can also stand a lot of shade so a cool, shaded forest is perfect for them. Golden birch is also called yellow birch, and Native Americans tapped this and other birch trees for their sap, which they boiled down into syrup. They also made a medicinal tea from the bark.

Many of the golden birches here have healed frost cracks, which is that vertical bulge running up the center of this tree. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree and its cells just under the bark expand. If nighttime temperatures are cold enough the bark will cool and contract rapidly, quicker than the wood underneath, and this stress on the bark can cause it to crack.  It’s fairly common to hear trees cracking with a sound like a rifle shot on cold nights.

Stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is rare in my experience; this is the only place I’ve ever seen it and I’ve never seen it with new shoots growing, like this example had. The shoots are the tiny white pointed bits seen here and there. This moss was very dry; as dry as paper, so it looks a bit ragged. Normally it is a beautiful healthy green color that sparkles in the right light, and that might be what gives it the name glittering wood moss. It is said to be more common in northern forests and grows even into the Arctic.

Here is a closer look at the tip of one of those shoots.

This is one of thousands of common script lichens (Graphis scripta) that grow on the trees here. The black squiggles that sometimes resemble a long forgotten ancient text are its apothecia where its spores are produced. This family of lichens, like many others, seems to prefer winter to produce spores. Its long, narrow apothecia are called lirellae, and they’ll fade and all but disappear in warm weather. Script lichen is also called secret writing lichen.

An elderly lady passed me on snow shoes and remarked about how beautiful the place and the day were. I agreed, and I wondered if I’d be anywhere near as able as she when I reached her age. She must have been close to 80 but she was cruising right along.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) buds are naked, meaning they have no bud scales to protect the bud from the winter cold. Instead they have hair and this one looked very hairy. This native shrub will bloom in mid-May and will be covered with large, hand size clusters of pure white blossoms. The name hobblebush comes from the way it can “hobble” a horse (or a man) with its low, ground hugging tangle of branches. The Native American Algonquin tribe rubbed the mashed leaves of this shrub on their foreheads to treat migraines. They also ate its deep purple berries that appear in fall.

I got to see the chubby purple and green buds of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) that I enjoy seeing so much. They looked a bit dry but they’re on their way to opening I think. It looks as if the outer bud scales have pulled away from the buds. This is another native shrub that has clusters of bright red berries in summer that Native Americans used as food.

There are many ledges here along the old road and last year one of them collapsed into quite a large rockslide, with stones big enough to crush a car falling into the old road.

This shows the big hole in the ledge that the stones left when they fell. Someone small could sit in there behind the ice but I wouldn’t advise it because this area looks very unstable.

Most of the stone in these ledges is feldspar but there is some granite schist mixed in, as can be seen here. There are lots of garnets mixed into the stone as well and though some can be large none are of gem quality, from what I saw in my mineral collecting days.

With a last look at the beautiful blue ice on the ledges I walked back down the old road, in truth wishing I was seeing blue flowers instead. It looks like the end of the really cold air is finally in sight; we’re supposed to see temperatures in the 40s F. next week. That should finally get spring started in earnest.

Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen. ~Willa Cather

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All week long the weather people said last Saturday, January 5th would be rainy and Sunday the 6th would be sunny. It did indeed rain Saturday and even dusted the landscape with snow overnight but there was very little sunshine on Sunday. The sun did break out eventually and I decided to follow a small stream that meanders through my neighborhood. It weaves its way through a small slice of true wilderness where nobody ever goes; just the kind of place you would have found me when I was a boy.

A deer had come this way not too long ago.

I could see where they crossed the stream.

There is a small tributary on the far side and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had walked right down it.

The stream bed is gravel and the water is very clean.

But this stream can fool you and I remember having to carry my son across it once as it came up and over the road in a flood. Since then it has flooded a few times and is scary enough for me to know that I don’t want to be anywhere near it when it does. The Christmas fern with its fronds all pointing in the same direction told of recent high water.

There is a beautiful burl here that I’ve been watching for years. It isn’t very big; about the size of a baseball, and if it’s growing it’s doing so very slowly. If it was bigger it would make a beautiful bowl.

There on the bank of the stream was a clump of something I wanted to see.

I like to visit my friends the tree mosses (Climacium dendroides) every now and then but I think it has been a year or more since I saw them last. They are cheery mosses that look like little palm trees, and they always glow with a beautiful inner light. This is the only spot I’ve ever found them so they aren’t common in this area, but I was happy to see that they’re spreading here along the little stream. They must not mind being under water for a time because it’s getting so the stream floods once or twice a year now. When I moved here it flooded once each decade.

It was dark in the forest because the sun had gone.

And it had started to rain again.

The oddest thing I saw was a free standing river grape vine (Vitis riparia.) This is odd because the top of the vine was in the trees and grapes need something to climb on. The stems are too weak to support themselves and without something to climb they’ll sprawl on the ground. I’m guessing that the tree it originally grew on had died a long time ago; so long ago that all traces of it had disappeared.

I’ve seen some magical things in grape tendrils. This one reminded me of someone sitting cross legged. Maybe it was the beautiful Hindu dancer I saw in another tendril a few years ago.

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) is a good wetland indicator and they grow all alongside the stream in the almost always wet soil. Their shin high, spore bearing fronds full of round black spore cases make them very easy to see in winter. Early colonists noticed that this fern was very sensitive to frost and they gave it its common name. It has toxic properties and animals rarely eat it, but some Native American tribes used its root medicinally.

Delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) grew at the base of a tree. Whoever named this moss couldn’t have known it well, because it is far from delicate. This example has been under the water of a fast moving stream many times but you’d never know it. Orchid growers use this moss in commercial orchid cultivation.

Papery beech leaves whispered in the breeze. I hadn’t thought about beech trees having such a strong presence in the forest until recently. All year long they are there, from the time of their beautiful buds breaking in May until the pale white leaves fall from their branches the following spring, a continual woodland companion, always welcome.

I’ve been seeing turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) in various shades of brown and orange but I haven’t seen many in blues and purples, which are my favorites. The scientific names of this fungus mean thin (Trametes) and many colored (versicolor) and that’s exactly what they are. Someday I hope to learn what determines their color.

This large fungus looked like it was trying to form brackets or shelves but it wasn’t having much luck and looked more like a misshapen blob than anything else and I couldn’t identify it. I don’t feel too bad about not being able to identify mushrooms though, because there are an estimated 3.8 million different fungi on earth and about 90% of them haven’t been identified. Science has found that mushrooms are closer to animals than plants because they contain chemicals that are also found in lobsters and crabs.

Black jelly fungi (Exidia glandulosa) have become rarer than other jelly fungi over the years and that’s why I don’t show them here very often. I saw some good examples this day though, and they were nice and plumped up because of the rain. When this fungus dries out it loses about 90% of its volume and shrinks down to tiny black specks of the bark of what it grows on. These pillow shaped, shiny black fungi grow mostly on alders in this area.

I thought I might see some witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) in bloom but all I saw were the little cup like bracts that the strap shaped yellow petals come out of.

The most beautiful things I saw on this day were the witch hazel’s orange brown leaves. It’s a pretty color that warms you even on a winter day, and I was happy to see them.

To sit in solitude, to think in solitude with only the music of the stream and the cedar to break the flow of silence, there lies the value of wilderness. ~ John Muir

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I hope everyone had a nice Christmas. Our presents from nature were temperatures in the mid-30s F. and plenty of sunshine but we’ve also had some cold, as this frozen view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows. We have no snow in my corner of the state though, because it seems to warm up ahead of every storm and we see rain instead of snow. That’s a good thing because just one storm last week would have dropped over two feet of snow.

Pressure cracks in ice are caused by stress, which is caused by fluctuating temperatures in the ice, wind, or waves. Some are contraction cracks, caused by the top surface of the ice sheet shrinking quickly. I think that’s what this crack on the pond ice in the previous photo might be. There are also wet and dry cracks. Dry cracks obviously have no water in them like this one. Ice can make some very strange, eerie sounds as it changes and sometimes this pond sounds like a Star Wars movie. This crack went all the way across the pond.

There seems to be plenty of seeds and other food for the smaller birds this year, especially since the asters seen here along with goldenrods and so many other late blooming plants grow many millions of seeds each year. All of these seeds are what help small birds and small animals through winter.

And they do get eaten, as this aster seed head shows.

Though the smaller birds seem to have plenty to eat things might be a bit difficult for larger birds like turkeys. Last year was a mast year and millions of acorns and white pine cones fell; easily more than I’ve ever seen, and turkeys, deer, squirrels and other animals had a bountiful year. But as is often the case when trees grow so much fruit, they need time to recover. In the following few years the harvest can be meager, and that’s what has happened this year. Last year I saw more acorns fall than I ever have and this year I’ve seen fewer fall than I ever have, and turkeys and larger animals are now paying the price.  Add to that a layer of snow like that seen here in Hancock, and there could be a serious thinning of the flocks and herds.

Technically a group of turkeys is called a “rafter” rather than a flock but I doubt they care. This one had to come over and see what I was up to. Here in New Hampshire we see turkeys chasing people on the news fairly regularly. They also have a habit of standing in roads. Why, I don’t know.

The way some of these photos show a snow pack and others show none you might think they were taken in different seasons but no, it’s just a matter of a few miles between snow and none at all. In fact looking at this colony of heartleaf foam flowers (Tiarella cordifolia) one might be fooled into thinking it was spring, but they’re an evergreen plant and look like this even under snow. Come mid-May they’ll be covered in small white flowers with long stamens, and it is these “foamy” flower stamens that give the plant its common name. It’s so nice to see green plants in December.

Mosses like this delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) are non-vascular plants and most if not all are evergreen. I love seeing them at all times of year but especially in winter when there is so little green showing. This moss changes color from deep green to bright lime green when it starts getting cold and it always looks orange to me in the fall, but I’m colorblind so I’m sure it’s just me.

Last year I found this odd, sprawling little plant that I had never seen before. I showed it on a blog post and helpful readers told me it was a spikemoss, which I hadn’t heard of. I went back to see it this year and it really hadn’t changed but I tried to look it over a little more carefully and I did some reading about it. I believe this example is meadow spikemoss (Selaginella apoda.) Spikemosses are considered “primitive” seedless (spore bearing) vascular plants and therefore aren’t mosses at all. This pretty little plant is more closely related to the clubmosses, which are also spore bearing vascular plants known as lycopods. It doesn’t appear to be evergreen like the clubmosses however.

I didn’t look closely at this fern but I think it might be an eastern wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) which is also called marginal wood fern because of how its spore bearing clusters are placed in relation to its pinnule (leaf division) margins. We have a few evergreen ferns and like the mosses they add much to the winter landscape. They might look delicate but I’ve seen them grow on even after being encased in ice.

Polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) is another of our evergreen ferns but it doesn’t look delicate at all. In fact if you run your hand over its fronds you’ll find that it feels tough and leathery. This fern is also called rock polypody or rock cap fern  because it is almost always found growing on stones. They are one of just a few vascular plants that can rehydrate after drying out, much like mosses do.

The sori of the polypody fern are considered naked because they don’t have the thin tissue covering, called an insidium, which many other ferns have. I think the little clusters of sporangium look like baskets of flowers. Though small they can be seen with the naked eye. The druids thought this fern had special powers because they found it growing near oak trees. Its roots and leaves have been used medicinally for many centuries and its name appears in some of the earliest herbals and botanical texts.

Milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus) is a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi appear to do. This is a very common winter fungus that grows on the undersides of limbs. The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore producing tissue which start life as pores or tubes and then break apart and turn brown as they age. This example was very young and  shows what look more like pores than teeth at this stage. If you pick up a fallen limb and touch something that feels cold and rubbery, it might be one of these. They are very tough and can stand all the snow and cold that winter can throw at them.

Another tough fungus is the turkey tail (Trametes versicolor,) but this one feels leathery rather than rubbery. This is a common fungus that can be found just about anywhere but the beautiful blue, purple, and orange ones are rare in this area. It seems to depend on the year I’ve noticed; sometimes most of them are shades of brown but in some years many will lean towards blues, purples and oranges. I have no idea what determines their color and apparently science doesn’t either, because I’ve never been able to find a single word about what colors them in print.

I’ve seen several trees with these markings on them and I think it might be the start of a bright yellow crust fungus called conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum.) This fungus is also called bleeding parchment because of the blood red liquid it exudes when it is damaged. It causes heart rot in conifers and is a death sentence for the tree. It seems to be very widespread because I’ve seen it in almost every bit of woodland I’ve been in.

A single terminal bud and two lateral buds in red or sometimes pink help identify striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum.) In late April or early May the bud scales on these buds will open to reveal the beautiful pink and orange buds, which are some of the most beautiful the things one can see in the spring forest.

Many things in nature will turn blue when it gets cold enough. Ice can be blue and so can the sap of the white pine tree. I’ve also seen the white striations that give striped maple its name turn blue. This is the only maple tree in New England that has bark that is striped like this. Other names for the tree are snake bark maple, moosewood maple, goosefoot maple, Pennsylvania maple, and whistle wood, because the soft pith makes the wood easy to hollow out and make whistles from. Native Americans used the bark of the tree to treat many ailments including coughs and colds.

A burl is an abnormal growth on a tree that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage. Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and/or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers prize burls very highly and make some beautiful bowls and other things from them which can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars. This one grew on a maple and was quite large.

Bunch gall is another plant deformity that appears on Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) at the very tip of the stem. A gall midge (Rhopalomyla solidaginis) lays its egg in a leaf bud and when the larva hatches the plant stops growing taller but continues to produce leaves in a “bunch” like that seen here. Since the midge only lays its eggs on Canada goldenrod it makes this plant easy to identify.

I was working one day and this spider crawled up to me and watched for a while. After letting me take a couple of photos it walked off to wherever it was going. It was about as big as a quarter (3/4”) from leg tip to leg tip. I don’t know its name but it could move very fast when it wanted to.

This is how the sky often looks as I drive to work at 7:00 am at this time of year. It’s a great gift that costs nothing but my being there to see it. I hope all of you received similar gifts this year.

A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as you expect. ~Johnathan Lockwood Huie

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1-brickyard-brook

One of the things I like about this time of year is how you can see so much further into the forest once the shrubs that make up the undergrowth have lost their leaves. This means that things that were hidden all summer like mosses suddenly become very visible. I was surprised to find that I could see so far up Brickyard Brook in Winchester recently. The water was very low and every stone was covered in moss. This is odd since not that long ago water covered most of the stones. Can mosses really grow that fast, or were they there underwater the whole time, I wondered. There are aquatic mosses and one called common water moss (Fontinalis  antipyretica) was recently found to be growing at 1000 foot depths in Yellowstone Lake, near a geo-thermal vent.

2-dog-lichen

Mosses don’t have roots but on dry land they soak up rain water like a sponge and release it slowly over time. Other water loving plants like this dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea) take advantage of that and grow among them so they won’t dry out. This lichen was moist and pliable, even though we’ve been in a drought for months. Mosses also benefit the ecosystem in many other ways.  Bryologist Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer says that “One gram of moss from the forest floor, a piece about the size of a muffin, would harbor 150,000 protozoa, 132,000 tardigrades, 3,000 springtails, 800 rotifers, 500 nematodes, 400 mites, and 200 fly larvae.”

3-medusa-moss-hedwigia-ciliata

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.

4-rambling-tail-moss

I think this moss must be rambling tail moss (Anomodon viticulosus) because of its long length and its habit of growing out away from the tree’s trunk. I think it is too long to be tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates.)

5-rambling-tail-moss

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. Those attributes and their yellow green color are what lead me to think that this example is Anomodon viticulosus, but I could be wrong. You really need a microscope to be sure when there are several mosses that look so much alike.

6-apple-moss

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) doesn’t look like many other mosses so it’s relatively easy to identify. Its reproduction begins in the late fall and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warm rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck.

7-apple-moss

Though they’re orange on this example sometimes the spore capsules do turn red as they age, so I guess the name apple moss is appropriate.

8-broom-moss

Broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) gets its common name from the way the leaves all point in the same general direction, making it look as if it had been swept by a broom. It’s a fairly common moss that grows in large tufts or mats on logs and tree bases, soil or stone.

9-delicate-fern-moss

Delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) changes from deep green to lime green when it gets cold and 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, where it can form quite dense mats. Orchid growers use this moss in orchid cultivation.

10-greater-whip-wort-bazzania-trilobata

Greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata) grows right alongside mosses but it’s a liverwort. A close look shows that it looks almost if it has been braided. Each leaf on this leafy liverwort is only about an eighth of an inch wide and has three triangular notches at its base. This is where the trilobata part of the scientific name comes from. It means “having three lobes.”

11-stairstep-moss

Stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is a very beautiful moss that grows on stones and looks quite fragile, but I’ve seen it with icicles hanging from it so I can say with certainty that it’s a lot tougher than it looks. That is most likely why it grows as far north as the arctic tundra. It seems fairly rare here; this is the only place that I’ve seen it.

12-stairstep-moss

When dry stair step moss has a slight satiny sheen to it, and that’s probably how it came by its other common name of glittering wood-moss. Its common name comes from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. It is said that you can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps, and from what I saw this branch would have been at least 5 years old.

14-big-redstem-moss-pleurozium-schreberi

This is the first time that big red stem moss (Pleurozium schreberi) has appeared on this blog because, though I’ve seen it for years I have only just learned its name. It’s a very common moss that I often see growing in very large mats, sometimes even overrunning other mosses. I finally learned the name of this one by reading The Saratoga Woods and Waterways Blog. If you love nature and aren’t reading this blog you’re doing yourself a disservice.

13-big-redstem-moss-pleurozium-schreberi

It should be obvious how big red stem comes by its common name but I don’t see any red, and neither does my color finding software. I’ve looked through two moss books and countless photos on line though, and all examples of big red stem look like this example. That makes me wonder if its stem isn’t red for part of the time. Mosses do change color.

15-rose-moss

Rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) is a very beautiful moss and one of my favorites. 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 in the area when it is found. This is a relatively rare moss in my experience. I know of only one place to find it.

Moss grows where nothing else can grow. It grows on bricks. It grows on tree bark and roofing slate. It grows in the Arctic Circle and in the balmiest tropics; it also grows on the fur of sloths, on the backs of snails, on decaying human bones. It is a resurrection engine. A single clump of mosses can lie dormant and dry for forty years at a stretch, and then vault back again into life with a mere soaking of water.
~
Elizabeth Gilbert

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1. Mosses

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.

2. Delicate Fern Moss

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.

3. Rambling Tail Moss

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.

4. Common Haircap Moss

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.

5. Haircap Moss Spore Capsule

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.

6. Mnium punctatum

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.

7. Mnium punctatum Closeup

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.

8. Apple Moss

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.

9. Moss Islands

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.

10. Crispy Tuft Moss

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.

11. Broom Moss aka Dicranum scoparium

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.

12. Rose Moss on Dog Lichen

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.

13. White Tipped Moss aka Hedwigia ciliata

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.

14. River Foxtail Moss

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.

15. Unknown

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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1. Rose Moss

I haven’t said much about mosses lately but since now is the time they are most easily seen I thought I’d get out there and see what I could find. Rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) is one of the most beautiful mosses in my opinion, and gets its common name from the way that each plant looks like a tiny rose blossom. Rose moss is also a good indicator of your surroundings because it prefers growing in lime rich soil or on limestone boulders.

2. Rocky Hillside

Can you tell which of these boulders have limestone in them? I can’t either but rose moss can, and it grows on just two of them.

3. Stairstep Moss

Stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is another very pretty moss that looks quite fragile, but I’ve seen it with icicles hanging from it and I can say with certainty that it’s a lot tougher than it looks. That is most likely why it grows as far north as the arctic tundra. When dry this moss has a slight satiny sheen to it, and that’s probably how it came by its other common name of glittering wood-moss.

4. Stairstep Moss

Stair step moss gets its name from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. You can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps.

 5. Yellow Feather Moss aka Homalothecium lutescens

What I think is yellow feather moss (Homalothecium lutescens) always looks pale and kind of sickly, but if you look closely at its growing tips and new spore capsules you’ll find that it quite healthy. If you see it at all, that is; I know of only one small colony that grows on the very end of a log with a diameter of an average doughnut, and I’ve never found it anywhere else.

6. White Tipped Moss aka Hedwigia ciliata

It’s easy to see how white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata) got its common name. This is a fairly common moss that seems to like to hang from the sides of boulders and ledges. Another name for it is Medusa moss, because when dry its leaves press close to the stem and it takes on a very wiry, string like appearance. Its ball shaped orange spore capsules (sporophytes) are hidden among the leaves on very short stalks, so they’re hard to see. This moss will even grow on asphalt roofs, so it is a perfect choice for green roof projects.

7. Delicate Fern Moss aka Thuidium delicatulum

Delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) is another pretty moss but I’m not sure how it comes by its common name because it is far from delicate. I have a few patches of it growing in my back lawn that get mowed and walked on regularly and they thrive in spite of the abuse. The leaves of this moss grow more horizontally than vertically and it often forms very low, dense mats on logs or the forest floor in damp, shaded places.

8. Greater Whipwort

Some “mosses” might have to be looked at a little closer.The growth on this stone isn’t a moss at all, though from a distance it looks just like one. It’s actually a liverwort called greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata) and it grows right alongside mosses.

9. Greater Whipwort

Up close greater whipwort looks as almost if it has been braided. Each leaf on this leafy liverwort is only about an eighth of an inch wide and has three triangular notches at its base. This is where the trilobata part of the scientific name comes from. It means “having three lobes.”

10. Rock Foam Lichen

Something else often found growing on boulders right beside mosses is rockfoam lichen (Stereocaulon saxatile.) Mosses soak up moisture like a sponge when it rains and then release it slowly and lichens often take advantage of this. The best time to search for both lichens and mosses is after a rain because both are at their best when wet.

11. Haircap Moss aka Polytrichum commune

Haircap moss (Polytrichum commune) gets its name from the hairy covering (calyptra) on its spore capsules (sporophytes). It is a very common moss that grows in dense colonies of 2-4 inches tall, often mounded in the center. The sheaths on its leaves can be golden yellow and shiny and give this moss another common name of goldilocks. I see it almost everywhere I go.

12. Haircap Moss Capsule

Haircap moss spore capsules start life round bat as they age become almost square and winged. The example in this photo still has its end cap or lid, called an Operculum, in place. This means that it hasn’t released its spores yet. I’m not sure what caused the blue color but this is the only blue spore capsule that I’ve seen.

13. Possible Narrow Leaved Beard Moss aka Helodium paludosum

One reason I don’t do more posts on mosses even though they fascinate me is because they can be difficult to identify without a microscope and many of them look very similar. A good example of that is what I think is this narrow leaved beard moss (Helodium paludosum.) It looks a lot like the Hedwigia ciliata we looked at earlier, but without the white tips.

The reason I wanted to show this moss is because of the immature spore capsules (sporophytes). When young the sporophyte is completely surrounded by a tough protective covering called the calyptra. The calyptra is what gives the spore capsules in the above photo their whitish color. As the sporophytes grow their skin-like calyptras will be shed, revealing their reddish brown color. So, if you find a moss with white spore capsules you know that you are actually seeing its immature capsules.

14. Brocade Moss aka Hypnum imponens

Brocade Moss (Hypnum imponens) is very shiny and sometimes has an orange brown color. Its common name comes from the way it looks as if it has been embroidered on whatever it happens to be growing on.  It is easily confused with knight’s plume moss (Ptilium crista-castrensis,) but the spore capsules on knights plume moss are elbow macaroni shaped and horizontal, while those of brocade moss are cylindrical and stand vertically, as seen in the above photo.

15. Lime Green Moss

Mosses often change color when it gets colder and this delicate fern moss surprised me with what I thought was its bright orange color. My color finding software told me it was just my color blindness again, because it is really lime green. It is a very bright lime green though, and was shining like a beacon.

I hope I didn’t bore all of you to tears talking about mosses. Soon there will be very little besides moss that is still green, and for me there are few things more pleasurable than walking through the snowy winter woods with a bright blue sky overhead and the sunshine falling on some of the only green things to be seen. Mosses, lichens, liverworts, and a few evergreen ferns are part of what make nature study fun even in winter.

Nature conceals her secrets because she is sublime, not because she is a trickster. ~Albert Einstein

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Long time readers will recognize this place but for you newer readers who are interested, last summer I did what turned out to be a popular two part post on an old abandoned road that we have here in Keene. Since people seemed to enjoy it I thought they might be interested in seeing what the area looks like in winter. If you missed the original posts or if you’d like to see what the area looks like in summer just click here.

1. Old Road Start

This is the starting point. Rather than break a trail through fresh snow I let the cross country skiers and snowshoers get here first. I was able to walk on nice, packed snow with just hiking boots on.

2. Frozen Brook

The road follows Beaver Brook, named for all of the beavers that once lived here. In places the ice had completely covered the brook and in others it was close to doing so.

3. Frost Covered Shrub

Down near the water every twig was covered in hoar frost.

 4. Hoar Frost

Hoar frost grows just about anywhere when there is enough moisture and it is cold enough. Here the delicate, feathery crystals grew at the edge of a puddle. Just a single warm breath is enough to destroy their beauty, so I wrapped all but my eyes up in a scarf before kneeling in the snow to take this photo.

 5. Moss and Snow

The feathery patterns in the hoar frost were repeated in this delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum.) Though this moss has the word delicate in its name in my experience it is quite tough. Snow and ice don’t seem to bother it at all.  It is also one of the prettier mosses, in my opinion.

6. Frozen Waves

In places the brook looked like it had flash frozen, with even its small waves captured in the ice. Once again I saw the feather pattern that I had seen in the hoar frost and delicate fern moss. It’s interesting how nature re uses some of the same patterns again and again.

7. Icicles

There were plenty of groundwater icicles on the ledges, but there was also still enough rock exposed to allow some lichen hunting.

8. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaeralescens) are crustose lichens that grow well here. The gray fruiting pruinose discs surrounded by black borders are very striking. A pruinose surface is one that is covered by white powdery granules and looks as if it has been frosted or dusted with powdered sugar. In this instance the surface reflects light, so these apothecial bodies often appear to be blue instead of gray.

9. Mountain Haircap Moss Capsules

Mosses also grow on these ledges. This example of mountain haircap moss (Polystrichastrum pallidisetum) had open spore capsules (sporophytes). When immature these capsules are covered by a hairy hood that resembles a stocking cap, and that’s how the name haircap moss came about. This moss is very similar to common haircap moss (Polytrichum commune). The chief difference between the two is a disk at the base of the spore capsules. Common haircap moss has this disk and mountain haircap moss does not.

10. Old Road

I took this photo to show how close the brook is to the road. I’ve met people up here who have told me that they remembered seeing the water up over the road in spring. Evidence that the brook is slowly eating away at the road can be seen all along it.

 11. Brook Ice

Ice dams had blocked the brook and created large pools behind them. This one had the flow down to little more than a trickle.

12. Beaver Brook Falls

I’ve spoken with a few people that I’ve met here and I think a lot of them come simply to get a taste of nature. Others though, come to see Beaver Brook Falls, which usually splashes into the pool below with a roar. On this day it was partially frozen and the water was falling behind a curtain of ice, so the roar had been reduced to little more than a splash. This isn’t a great shot of the falls but the steep path down to the brook looked treacherous, so I snapped what photos I could from the road. Even though this area isn’t that far from downtown Keene a twisted ankle out here alone could quickly turn serious, so I decided to play it safe. If you’d like to see and hear the falls in summer, just click the link at the start of this post.

The sole criterion is to walk with the senses, with hands that feel, ears that hear, and eyes that see. ~ Robert Browne

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