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Posts Tagged ‘Stairstep Moss’

While a real January thaw doesn’t traditionally happen until the month is nearly over we did have a “mini thaw,” when the temperature rose to 48 ° one day and 59 ° the next. Unfortunately we also saw over 2 inches of rain on the warmest day and all that rain combined with a lot of ice melt made rivers and streams swell up to bank full. This view of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey shows that it couldn’t have handled much more water.

In case you missed the last post, this is what the river looked like in the same spot last week. That’s a lot of ice that had to go somewhere when the river rose so fast.

Huge plates of ice were washed downstream, and on some rivers these large pieces of ice piled into one another and created ice jams that blocked at least 4 of the largest rivers in the state. When all that water is dammed up behind ice the river floods, and that’s what happened in several towns. It used to be that a well-placed stick or two of dynamite would clear an ice dam but I don’t know if they do that anymore.

When the height of the water is just right you can see some beautiful waves on this part of the river but on this day the water was brown and angry, and too high to make good waves. The river seemed to want to rid itself of all its excess water as quickly as possible. The current was strong and fast and that eerie, far off booming sound of boulders rolling along its stony bed ended up in my stomach. It goes through you and once you’ve heard it, it’s a sound you never forget.

The strong current tore the ice from the river’s banks and sent big pieces of it sailing off down its length.

Though I couldn’t catch it with the camera one large piece of ice tore all the shrubs and small trees it had formed around out of the ground and went floating off with all the twigs and branches sticking up out of it.

The river placed a perfectly clear piece of ice on top of a stone for me to admire, so I did. It looked like a prism or a jewel with all of the river’s colors shining through it. Its beauty drew me closer and closer to the river’s edge to get a photo of it, and I was almost out on an ice shelf before I realized it. You’ve got to keep your wits about you when you’re near water in winter, I reminded myself once again.

I certainly kept my wits about me in this spot, because this was downright scary. The Ashuelot River has many smaller brooks and streams that empty into it and I decided to visit Beaver Brook in Keene to see how much water it was bringing to the river. It raged with a fury even greater than what I saw at the river and there wasn’t a calm bit of water to be seen. If something was ever terrible and awe inspiring at the same time, this was it. I wondered if the bridge that I stood on to take this photo could stand up to it.

Large and small blocks of ice littered the brook’s banks, pushed and shoved by the force of the water until they began to stack up one on top of another. This is just how an ice jam forms; all the pieces of ice interlock and form a wall of ice that water can’t get through. It acts just like a dam and the water backs up behind it, but luckily this one didn’t stretch all the way across the brook. If it had this would have been a very dangerous place to be.

When the water is brown that means a lot of soil has been washed into it, and every stream and river I saw on this day was brown.

A curious thing that can happen in winter is a flash freeze, when the temperature drops so low so fast that water freezes in a very short time. That’s what came after the 59 ° day with all the rain, and everything, including car doors, quickly froze. Manchester, which is our largest city, went from 61 ° to 30° in just 4 hours.

The rain slowed to drizzle as the temperature dropped, and the drizzle formed into long icicles on this fallen branch. Before the storm ended the drizzle turned to sleet and then finally to a dusting of snow, so this storm threw just about all it had at us.

Mosses were completely encased in ice, but it doesn’t bother them in the least.

Amber jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) on a fallen oak branch froze solid before they had a chance to dry out. Normally they would slowly dry and shrink down to less than half the size seen here. One year I did an experiment and soaked dry, hard little chips of jelly fungi in water in the kitchen sink. In just an hour or so they had absorbed enough water to swell up to about three times the size they were when they were dry, and this is exactly what happens in nature when it rains. They absorb more than 60 times their weight in water, so they are more water than anything else.

This is the time of year when you find out that all of what you thought was so delicate and fragile in nature is actually tough as nails. I can’t think of a moss that appears more delicate than stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) but here it is, looking almost as fresh as it will in May.

Hydrologically speaking, a seep is a wet place where water reaches the surface from an underground aquifer, and there is one here at Beaver Brook. It must come from a warm source because no matter how cold it has gotten I’ve rarely seen this one freeze.  Seeps don’t usually have a single point of origin like a spring. They form a puddle that never dries up and doesn’t flow. They’re an important water source for many small animals and birds, and unusual plants and fungi can often be found in or around them. I’ve found interesting fungi like swamp beacons and eyelash fungi in seeps, so I always look them over when I find one. The wind made ripples on this one.

You don’t realize how much “stuff” falls from trees until you walk through a forest in winter and see it all on the snow. And it happens year round. If it wasn’t for the fungi and other decomposers I wonder if it would even be possible to walk under trees at all, so deep would be the piles of forest litter.

The snow isn’t usually as deep in an evergreen forest because much of it is caught by the tree branches and in this bit of woods the rain and warm temperatures had taken all but a dusting of it away. I’m sure more will fall to replace it.

What a pleasure it was after the bitter cold we’ve had to stand in warm spring-like sunshine smelling the wild thyme that grows in my yard. Though these January thaws are often far too brief they give us that taste of spring which reminds us that the cold can’t last forever. They are like a spring tonic that boosts your energy reserves and reminds you that you’ve been through tough winters before, and you’ll surely get through this one too. But first, a little more cold and snow.

You never like it to happen, for something as hopeful and sudden as a January thaw to come to an end, but end it does, and then you want to have some quilts around. ~Leif Enger

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I thought I had better visit some of the mosses I know before the snows came and covered them all up and it’s a good thing I did because we’ve gotten several inches over the last few days. You’ll notice in the above photo that mosses grow on soil, on tree bark, and on stone and we’ll look at some of all three in this post.

I thought I’d start with rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum,) which grows on stone and is one of my favorites. This pretty little moss likes limestone so when you see it you know you’re in an area where you might find other lime loving plants, like many of our native orchids. This moss forms dense mats and gets its common name for the aspirin size rosettes of leaves that terminate each stalk. They look like tiny flowers. This is the only example of rose moss that I’ve ever seen and I think it’s probably quite old.

Many mosses will grow on wood, stone or soil and delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) is one of them. This large stone was covered with delicate fern moss when branches fell on it. That didn’t stop the moss; it just grew right over the branches in its seeming mission to cover all the bare spaces it can find.

Delicate fern moss is a beautiful little thing that isnt as delicate as its name implies, but it certainly is fern like. Here it is crawling up and over one of those branches in the previous photo. The leaves of this moss are often bright yellow green in fall and are dull rather than shiny. It is fairly common and easy to find because it often forms very large mats.

Juniper haircap moss plants (Polytrichum juniperinum) look like tiny green starbursts. This moss grows on soil and is also very common in this area. I see them just about everywhere I go. Wet or dry, they always seem to look the same, even though many mosses change their appearance when they dry out.

When young the female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra, which protects the spore capsule and the spores within. It is very hairy, and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually, as the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position before the calyptra falls off.  The spore capsule continues to ripen and when the time is right it will open and release the spores. I’m guessing that at this stage the capsule is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti. When it’s time to release the spores the end cap (operculum) of the now reddish brown, 4 cornered but not square spore capsule will fall off and the spores will be borne on the wind.

I don’t see splash cups on juniper haircap moss very often in this area but these plants had some of last season’s cups on them. Mosses in the Polytrichum genus have male and female reproductive organs on separate plants, so when you see these little cups you know you’ve found a male plant that is ready to reproduce, or already has. The male moss produces sperm in these splash cups and when a raindrop falls into the cup the sperm is splashed out. If there is enough rain water to swim in, the sperm will then swim to the female plant and fertilize the eggs. Each cup, about half the diameter of a pencil eraser, looks like a tiny flower with its rosettes of tiny leaves surrounding the reproductive parts.

Sometimes when you think you’re seeing moss you’re actually seeing a liverwort. The greater whipwort liverwort (Bazzania trilobata) lives happily on stones right along with mosses so you have to look carefully to be sure of what you’re seeing. 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.”

Tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates) does just what its name sounds like it would; it grows at the base of trees and makes them look like they’re wearing green stockings. It can also grow on soil or stone and can form extensive mats.

Tree skirt moss looks like it’s made up of tiny braided ropes when it’s dry. It is normally deep green but sometimes dryness can affect its color and shape. After a rain each tiny leaflet will pull away from the stem, giving the moss a slightly fluffier appearance than what we see here.

You might see dark green or purple spots on the bark of smooth barked trees like maple and beech and think you are seeing moss but this is another liverwort. There are about 800 species of frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. As it gets colder they turn color until they become a dark purple; almost black, so they are much more noticeable in winter than in summer when they’re green. Some can get fairly large but these examples were smaller than a tennis ball.

The tiny leaves of frullania liverworts are strung together like beads. Some frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant but the few that I have remembered to smell didn’t seem to have any scent at all. This liverwort can cause something called woodcutter’s eczema. This eczema, called phytodermatitis (basically an itchy rash,) has been seen on loggers and others who regularly handle logs or cord wood with it on them. It doesn’t sound like anything serious and usually disappears in two or three weeks once the person stops handling logs with liverworts on them.

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, because its branch tips are often bright white. 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.

Believe it or not this is the same Hedwigia ciliata moss we saw in the previous photo but this example was very dry. This is where the name “Medusa moss” comes from.

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 example that I’ve seen.

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. The name stair step moss 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 that I found in 2014 would have been at least 5 years old.

White cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) gets its common name from the way it turns a whitish color when it dries out. When wet though, it can be dark green so it’s another moss that changes color.  This moss doesn’t reproduce by spores very often so it relies on vegetative reproduction. It grows on soil and turkeys and other animals that scratch at the soil help spread its pieces to other areas. I often see it scattered around some areas so it seems to happen regularly.

What this photo also shows are some fuzzy white growths on the white cushion moss that I’ve seen before but have never been able to identify. My gut feeling tells me that they have something to do with reproduction, but that’s little more than a guess. If you happen to know I’d love to hear from you. My moss books don’t mention them.

I found this pretty clump of what I think is flat glaze moss (Entodon cladorrhizans) growing on a dry ledge where soil had built up. This moss has shiny yellow green, overlapping leaves on stems that creep along whatever they grow on.  It also grows on rotting logs and tree trunk bases, mimicking the tree skirt moss we saw previously.

You can see some of the upright spore capsules (sporophytes) in this closer view of flat glaze moss. They are long and pointed when young and appear in late fall or winter. When mature they can be yellowish to reddish brown and will have a blunt, beaked end cap (operculum.) They are one of the things I used to help identify this moss, but I could still be wrong.

I hope you enjoyed meeting a few of the mosses I know. The next time you find yourself in a place like this with mosses all around I hope you’ll take the time to look a little closer. At this time of year anything green is welcome, and you might just see something beautiful enough to make you want to see more.

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-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. Trail

I agreed, back in February, to help a group of Pathfinders get some merit badges by helping them find mosses, lichens, and liverworts. Pathfinders range in age from 10 to 15 I think, and are kind of like scouts, at least when it comes to earning merit badges. Of course as soon as the plans were finalized it began to snow and it didn’t stop until nearly every living thing was buried under feet of it. We’ve had some warmth since though, so recently I decided to check out the old abandoned road near Beaver Brook in Keene to see if we could get in there without snow shoes.

2. Snow Melt

The snow had melted well on the hillsides along the sunny side of the road but the road itself still has as much as 6 inches of loose granular snow in places. Tough to walk in, but not impossible. Good, waterproof hiking boots will be best for this trip.

3. Snowy Hillside

The hillsides along the shady side of the brook still had quite a bit of snow on them.

4. Ledge

The last time I was here the wind had blown so much snow against the ledge faces, you wouldn’t have known they were there if you weren’t familiar with the place. Many of the mosses, lichens and liverworts that the Pathfinders want to find grow on these ledges so it would have been a waste of time.

5. Dog Lichen

Dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea) is just one of many things that grow here that I rarely see anywhere else. Dog lichens aren’t fussy and will grow on soil, stone or bark but they do seem to like moist, sunny spots. They also always seem to grow near moss, probably because moss soaks up water like a sponge.

6. Stairstep Moss

Chances are the Pathfinders won’t realize how special what they’re seeing actually is, but I plan to tell them that this is the only place that I’ve ever seen this stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens.) It is also called glittering wood moss and grows on the side of a large boulder here. It could be that I rarely see it because it usually grows in the boreal forests of Canada, Europe and Russia. I’m not sure why this particular example is growing so far south. This moss was once used to plug gaps between the logs in log cabins. It has anti-bacterial qualities.

7. Rose Moss

Rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) is one of the most beautiful mosses in my opinion and like the stair step moss, this is the only place I’ve ever seen it. This moss gets its common name from the way the small rosettes of leaves resembled rose blossoms to the person who named it. The example that grows here is large and I think must be quite old. It grows on the flat top of a boulder. As the photo shows, the rosettes grow so dense that you can’t even see the stone.

8. Yellow Feather Moss

Yellow feather moss (Homalothecium lutescens) is another moss that’s rare in this area, at least in my experience. This small clump is the only one I know of. It’s looking a little bedraggled because of being covered by snow all winter, but at least the Pathfinders will be able to see it.

9. Stone

I don’t know too much about geology but I do know that there are some interesting things to see here among the ledges, including garnets, milky quartz crystals, and veins of feldspar. I also know that I could build a nice looking wall with the stones in this section.

10. Ice Free Brook

In places the ice that covered the brook all winter has completely melted and the silence of winter has been replaced by the chuckles and giggles of spring water moving over and around the stones. Be more like the brook, I remind myself. Laugh your way through life and just flow around any obstacles that might appear.

11. Icicles

Not all of the brook is ice free. There were still some impressive icicles to be seen.

12. Falls

The lower section of Beaver Brook Falls had shaken off its think coating of ice and was announcing spring with a roar. It’s amazing to come here in the dead of winter when even they are silent. Ice makes a very good sound insulation.

13. Greater Whipwort

Greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata) will fulfil the Pathfinder’s one liverwort requirement. Their need for 5 each of lichens and mosses will easily be met here as well. This liverwort doesn’t grow everywhere but it isn’t really rare either. I always find it growing on stones near a brook or a stream. At a glance it might fool you into thinking it was a moss but a closer look reveals the three tiny lobes at the base of each leaf that give it the trilobata part of its scientific name. This liverwort is the host plant for the larva of a moth known as the gold cap moss eater (Epimartyria auricrinella.)

14. Blue Fibers on Tree Skirt Moss

A while ago I did a post about all of things that I found growing on a single tree, and in it I mentioned how I had been seeing a lot of long white fibers hung up on lichens especially. Well, now they’re getting hung up on moss too, and they’re blue. I found this little bundle on some dry tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates.) I wonder if a bird was collecting it for its nest and dropped it. I don’t see many humans where this particular moss grows.

 15. Line on Road

The snow had melted enough in one spot to see a little piece of the yellow line that still runs up the middle of this old road. Since the temperature reached into the 60s F yesterday I’m hoping to see a lot more of it next week when the Pathfinders are here.

If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in. ~Rachel Carson

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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

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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