Friday, November 21, 2014

A Miniature World of Mosses and Lichens

Our wood, cedar-shingled trashcan bin needs a new roof, however, I am having a hard time giving up on the old roof because there is fascinating little world of mosses and lichens on it.

I was so intrigued that I took a class on mosses recently at the Morris Arboretum to try to learn a little more about these plants in miniature. I learned that Bryophytes are one of the most diverse plant groups with over 20,000 varieties. (Fern-lovers would argue that they are the most diverse plant group.) Bryophyte is a collective term used for hornworts, liverworts, and mosses. The plants are usually composed of one-cell thick leaves and are non-vascular, which means the stems and leaves do not conduct water and nutrients. Mosses live on all seven continents, including Antarctica. Pretty amazing, right?! They can be found in a variety of conditions, from wet to dry, hot to cold, aquatic to terrestrial.

I won’t pretend to be able to identify mosses yet, however, here are some mosses that are growing on my trashcan bin. I got out my macro tubes to get these close-up shots.

Mosses only grow and reproduce when it is wet. They can even grow under snow and will often produce spores under snow. They are very good at drawing in water and will go dormant if they get too dry. I believe these pincone-ish bits are a kind of spore.

These are definitely moss spores.

Lichen are not moss and are more like fungi, but are photosynthetic plants. They have a different biology than mosses and are usually blues and grays. I am going to guess that this is a type of lichen. Looks like some sort of weird alien world when seen through the macro tubes.

From my online research, I think this variety is called British Soldier.

I think the red tips are where the spores are produced.

These mosses and lichens look like they are living in harmony at first glance, however, I believe they are more likely competing for space on my rotting trashcan bin roof.

There are also these tiny, little mushrooms. At least that is what they look like.

So much to learn about this strange, lilliputian world.

One of the books the teacher recommended is “Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians (Princeton Field Guides).” I was trying to find a guide to lichens, as well, though. I found “Mosses, Lichens & Ferns of Northwest North America (Lone Pine Guide),” but I don’t live in the Northwest so I’m not sure that would be the best one for me. There are others that are only available used and are really pricey.

I feel like this whole new world of plants has opened up to me. It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the rotting roof of my trashcan bin.

Further reading:


Basic Moss Biology

Moss Reproduction

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