Field of Science

Lichens in the Forests of Norway

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchSince some of my blog posts have discussed moss gardening in relation to conservation and stewardship, Dr. Elphick recommended an article on lichen conservation. I checked it out and decided to share some of the interesting highlights. (For a review of lichen biology see my posts from October.)

Caruso, A., J. Rudolphi, and G. Thor. 2008. Lichen species diversity and substrate amounts in young planted boreal forests: A comparison between slash and stumps of Picea abies. Biological Conservation 141:47-55.

This study examines the lichens that grow on dead wood in managed forests. The dead wood consists of branches and tree tops (slash) as well as stumps. Forest managers are interested in using this wood for biofuel and this research study explores how this removal will impact the lichen communities.

Out of the 60 species of lichens that were found growing on the slash and stumps, 42 of these species were only found growing on these substrates in the forest. They were not found growing on any of the live trees. Additionally, the stumps had more unique lichen species than the slash. This is most likely due to the larger moisture holding capacity, higher surface area, and greater texture (nooks and crannies) of the stumps. Thus this dead wood represents a important growing surface for lichens and should be taken into account for lichen conservation.

Decaying wood is also a substrate for mosses on the forest floor. I think that it would be interesting to see if many species of mosses grow exclusively on decaying wood similar to lichens. This would lend support to the idea that dead wood should not be removed from the forest floor for biofuel, since it provides a critical substrate for forest organisms.

Mosses on TV

I was watching television yesterday after dinner with my family and saw a program featuring mosses. Okay, maybe featuring is a bit of an exaggeration, but mosses were mentioned a couple of times and how often do you see mosses on TV anyway. Needless to say, I was pretty excited!

The show that we watched was on PBS entitled Playing with Trains in the Garden. The segment featured Paul Busse who is a landscape architect using natural materials to build public garden exhibits that feature replicas of local buildings and miniature working trains. The show went behind the scenes to his workshop in Kentucky where the displays are built. They showed how the raw materials, such as moss, are collected from the forest and then assembled by his team to make the displays. It is quite the process and his team is made up of really great artisans! They used the moss to fill in any cracks or chinks in the buildings. One artisan had a great line about moss, (paraphrased, I am not good at direct quotes from memory.) 'Mosses fill up all the little spaces and hide the blemishes. I wish that I could use moss in all areas of my life.' That was the best moss comment the entire show and a nice sentiment as well.

I also looked around online to find a video of Busse's displays. There are several videos on his company's website, Applied Imagination and many photographs of the displays that they have made. I also found a video on YouTube entitled Busse's Enchanted Express by Randy Walk at the Columbus Dispatch. It is a really nice video and features the display at the Franklin Park Conservatory. The version from YouTube is posted below the fold.

Journal Article on Growing Moss Plants

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchWhile thinking about growing mosses from scratch I remembered a helpful article that I read a while back by Dr. Jonathan Shaw. The article discusses techniques for growing mosses on soil. One of the most interesting methods that he used was a blender to grind the plants up. The plants were kept moist by an automatic misting machine, not by individual domes as I use to grow moss. He found that the mosses began to form protonema in two weeks and within three months the pots were full of leafy gametophytes.

Protonema are a plant growth stage that is unique to mosses. When the spores find a suitable location to grow they do not immediately produce leafy gametophytes. First they make a filamentous growth stage that is reminiscent of green algae. From the protonema numerous gametophytes are produced. Thus one spore can produce many leafy individuals that are genetically identical. In most species the protonema die off and the leafy plants are no longer connected. The protonema pictured here are from the moss Aphanorrhegma serratum, which I grew in the lab.

Overall I think that this is a really good article and I would recommend it for anyone who is growing mosses for research or gardening purposes.

Shaw, J. 1986. A New Approach to the Experimental Propagation of Bryophytes. Taxon 35(4):671-675.

Here is a list of the moss species that Dr. Shaw was able to grow using the methods outlined in his journal article.

Atrichum angustatum
Brachythecium salebrosum
Bryum argenteum
B. bicolor
Climacium americanum
Ditrichum lineare
Isopterygium pulchellum
Leucobryum albidum
Scopelophila cataractae
Thuidium delicatulum
Weissia controversa

Growing Mosses in the Laboratory

Here is a shot of the light cart that I am growing my mosses on in the lab. Dr. Schlichting graciously lent me this awesome piece of equipment. It has three banks of lights, one of which I am currently using. I am in the process of expanding my moss research colony so that it will soon occupy all three levels. The lights are on a timer and are set for 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of darkness. The mosses had plenty of light during the summer sitting out on the windowsill, but with the winter months the needed more light to achieve optimal growth.

The soil on which I am growing my mosses on is a mix that is made in the EEB Plant Growth Facilities at the University of Connecticut. We have spectacular greenhouses on campus and a great greenhouse staff! If you are ever in the area you should stop by to visit the greenhouses. They are free and open to the public.

The recipe for the soil mix is as follows:

Rich Sandy Loam
3 gal. loam
71/2 gal. peat
3 gal. leaf mold
3 gal. sand
10 Tbs. lime

The quantities are pretty large. They mix this up in the greenhouse and store it in garbage can sized containers. Scaling back would probably be best for at home use.

Growing plants indoors in the winter

If you decide to start landscaping with some local moss and want to start some indoors over the winter to plant out in the spring I have some recommendations. Typically moss does not require much sunlight. That is why it is usually found growing in shady areas of the lawn. If you are planning a pot full of moss to add to your indoor houseplant collection, no additional light is needed. However if you are planning to grow moss in bulk to plant outside later, additional light during the winter is a good idea.

For lighting at home I recently purchased a grow lamp for my cactus. It is a totem pole cactus (Pachycereus schottii var. monstrosus) that I bought as a souvenir from the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum when I was visiting Tuscon last spring. If you ever have a chance to visit it is a great outdoor exhibit of plants and animals. Not much moss on display, though there are desert species of moss. During a Connecticut winter, the light is not very strong and I thought that my cactus could use more brightness. This cactus is quite the crazy mutant! It lacks spines and has a few small bristles, basically none that can hurt you which is a great feature. I also think that the overall bumpy shape is great! This type of cactus is native to the Baja California Peninsula portion of the Sonoran Desert.

Overall this grow lamp is working out well for my cactus and I think that it would be good to stimulate indoor moss growth as well.

Growing Moss

I have been thinking about moss gardening lately and the challenges associated with this pastime. Questions have arisen such as: What do you do when there is no landscaper in your area to purchase moss from and you want to grow local species? One technique that I have been using in the laboratory might also work for those who wish to garden with moss.

I am growing mosses in these little plastic containers (see photo) with the edges sealed by plastic wrap. I think that larger seed starter trays would work as well. The main item of importance is that they have a lid so that the moisture does not escape.I have started mosses on soil in two ways.
1) I sprinkle spores out of a capsule onto the soil.
2) I take leafy gametophyte plants and grind them in some water using a mortar and pestle. Then I apply the moss slurry onto the soil surface.
In both cases I add some water and seal the lids. In several weeks the leafy gametophytes begin to grow.

I currently have my mosses growing on a light cart that gives them 12 hours of light a day. During the summer I have them sitting in a windowsill in the lab with no additional light.
I am currently growing three moss species on soil in the lab (Funaria hygrometrica, Physcomitrium pyriforme, and Physcomitrella patens). I have not tried this technique with other species, but I have confidence that it would work. If anyone decides to give it a try I would love to hear about the results.

More comments on moss gardening to come!

Think Local

Ideally when landscaping with any plants, including moss, you will want to find a local retailer that is selling native species. Those are species that naturally occur in your area. These plants have not been introduced purposefully or accidentally by humans into the wild. Not that there are any aggressive invasive moss species. (I don't know of any invasive mosses off the top of my head, but I will look into it more.) Needless to say, you do not want to be the first person to release the moss version of purple loostrife or kudzu into the wild, which are both invasive species in North America. It is also important that retailers you might buy moss from are growing it themselves. Removing large patches of moss from the wild and then selling them is bad. They should have actively growing populations of mosses that they are propagating to sell.

If you live in Connecticut, or in the surrounding small states, I have heard of a place to find mosses to use in the garden. The retailer is Sticks and Stones Farm in Newtown, Connecticut. I have yet to visit personally, but it comes highly recommended. They sell seven different species of moss that can be ordered online. Moss is grown in flats outside and they do not poach from the wild, which gets a two thumbs up from me. If anyone has visited the farm I would love to hear your thoughts or comments on your experience. I will definitely let you all know if I have a chance to visit.

Moss Gardening Book

This is the book to have if you are interested in using moss in your garden. There is not another book quite like it or any alternatives. Overall I really like this book. There are great photographs throughout the book. It begins by introducing you to mosses in a biological manner and points out what things are and aren't moss. That is where I usually start when giving a presentation about moss and I think that it is a good approach. He transitions into the history of moss gardening both in Japan and in Western countries. Good locations for growing moss are discusses as well as propagation techniques. My favorite chapter is Chapter 14, entitled Portraits. This chapter introduces the reader to 70 different species of moss, lichen, and liverwort. There are brief descriptions of the species and the habitats in which they grow. Fun facts and antidotes about some of the species are also included.

The main thing that this book is missing is a section on conservation. Encouraging people to garden with moss is great! But it is also important to encourage people to be good stewards of the moss that grows wild on their property or in surrounding areas. Removal of small pieces of mosses (think the size of a quarter or dime) from an area will most likely not damage the moss community. However large patches of mosses should not be removed from any surface, either tree bark, stone, decaying wood or soil. Basically large patch removal (saucer to dinner plate size) is the equivalent of strip mining in the moss world. If more moss than a small patch is needed to transplant or make a moss slurry (see pg 158 in the book), I would recommend collecting patches from several different places across a larger area. That way there is moss close to the open patches that can grow to fill the space. I think that conservation and stewardship are important topics to think about in the context of gardening with moss. I hope that everyone who gardens with moss or enjoys them in the out of doors will also think of what they can do to protect and care for these great little plants.

Moss Gardening: Including Lichens, Liverworts and Other Miniatures By George Schenk

The Knothole Moss (Part 2)

Here is an up close and personal shot of the peristome and capsule of Anacamptodon splachnoides. This is the portion of the moss that enabled me to identify it to species.

Features of Note:
1. The capsule is upright with a constriction just below the opening of the mouth.
2. The exostome
(outer ring of teeth) consists of 16 teeth that are joined in pairs at the base and are yellow-brown in color. When dry they are curved back away from the mouth as seen here.
3. The endostome
(inner ring of teeth) is less obvious. It is composed of 8 or 16 thin filaments that alternate with the larger teeth. They are red-brown in color and are approximately half the size of the larger exostome teeth. These filaments are a little hard to see in this photo. If you zoom in you may be able to see them projecting into the opening of the mouth. With a hand lens and in person they are a great deal easier to see.

The Knothole Moss (Part 1)

This small moss occurs in dense, dark green mats and is typically found growing on wet tree bark in sheltered crevices such as knotholes. The bark that it grows on is usually soft and rotten. I found this specimen growing on a decaying tree stump in a Connecticut forest. This species has a widespread, but sporadic distribution across eastern North America. (I hadn't known this fact when I identified it, but I guess that means I was pretty lucky to find this species.) The leafy gametophyte portion of this plant resembles a number of other plagiotropic or creeping mosses. (Plagiotropy is when the plant is orientated parallel to the surface it is growing on.) The sporophyte capsules are upright with the mouths open to the sky. The defining features that I used to identify this species involve the peristome teeth. ( I have a zoomed in shot of thees teeth that will better illustrate these diagnostic features.) The scientific name for this species is Anacamptodon splachnoides.

New Goffinet Lab Website

One of the labs that I work in at the University of Connecticut is the Goffinet laboratory. I am very pleased to report that we have a new website for the lab! It highlights all of the projects that we currently have going on. There is also a list of recent publications that members of the lab have participated in. The best part is that all present and past lab members are listed with their respective research interests! If you are interested in any of the research and nerdy pursuits of my bryophyte loving pals you can check out the new website. (Yes that is a picture of my advisor skydiving on the front page of the website.)

Timmia Peristome

This is an image that I submitted to the Society of America's student image competition last summer. I was very surprised and excited to be awarded second place in the competition. All of the images submitted in the competition were added to the society's online image collection, which is available for nonprofit educational or private non-commercial uses.

Below is the description of this image that I used for the competition.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

The peristome is located around (peri-) the mouth (-stome) of the moss capsule, a structure which contains the spores. For the past 200 years, peristome characteristics have played an important role in defining major groups of mosses. The peristome shown here has a unique morphology and is an identifying feature for the Timmiaceae. This scanning electron micrograph of Timmia megapolitana has been colored to highlight the two layers of the peristome. The endostome (inner layer, colored in orange) consists of a membrane that is topped by 64 filaments, while the exostome (outer layer, colored in yellow) consists of 16 large teeth. These teeth have the ability to move in response to humidity, thus opening and closing the mouth of the moss capsule. This movement facilitates the release of spores (colored in green) under optimal dispersal conditions.

New Pocket Knife

It finally happened. Despite my best efforts, I lost my favorite and only pocket knife. I was out collecting plants before class and was using my knife to cut off some fern fronds. I thought that I placed it back in my pocket, but when I arrived at the car it was no where to be found. I backtracked but could not find it in the brush or along the trail. I think that one of the problems was that my old knife was all black, and thus hard to see when dropped.

A good pocket knife is an essential item for collecting moss. I use it in the field to scrape moss of tree bark or stones and to dig small pieces of moss out of a larger patch. In addition to my hand lens, it is a tool that I always take with me into the field.
So, I searched online to find the same brand of pocket knife, because I really liked my lost one. The upgrade that I made was to buy the same knife in bright orange. Hopefully this will keep me from loosing it in the brush. I am looking forward to going out in the field and using it to hunt down some moss!

Two Little Gemmae

So here they are! The long awaited and elusive Tetraphis moss gemmae. These crafty creatures can be difficult to photograph when they are tucked down inside their comfortable gemmae cups. All it takes is a little coaxing from a pair of forceps (aka. tweezers) and they will reluctantly float out into a drop of water. This pair floated together for a perfectly posed picture.

These gemmae are very small, like many moss parts. I didn't measure them, but they are definitely smaller than a millimeter. (maybe a scale bar would be good for next time) Due to their miniature stature, this photo was taken using a compound microscope. From this angle it can be seen that the gemmae are one cell thick near the edges
and several cells thick in the center, hence why the light does not shine through in that area. Microscopes are so very great! Those are individual cells that you can see in the photo, with little green chloroplasts inside of them. Chloroplasts are the organelles in the cell where photosynthesis occurs and are the structures that cause plants to appear green. The gemmae are attached to the inside of the gemmae cup via a single strand of cells. A piece of a cell wall from that strand can be seen sticking off to the right, of the gemmae on the right.

The Cup Up Close

This is a zoomed in photo of a couple of Tetraphis gemmae cups. The cups are composed of multiple leaves at the apex of the moss that are overlapping. It is not a solid structure like a teacup. (Just an fyi for your imagination image.) I was hoping that the gemmae would be visible, but they are not unfortunately. They are located in the dark area in the base of the cup.

Gemmae Cups

These cups are located at the apex of the leafy moss and function in reproduction. The moss makes little discs of plant tissue inside the cups called gemmae. These gemmae are moved away from the parental plant via a splash-cup dispersal mechanism. It sounds high tech, but really is just using the power of rain. When rain droplets land in the cup the gemmae are dislodged and can be carried in the water as it splatters away from the moss plant. The gemmae may not be dispersed very far, but it is far enough that this structure is advantageous for the plant to have. This is a from of asexual or clonal reproduction. The plant has made a mini copy of itself that can grow into a new moss plant.

The cups are a common and easily recognized feature of the moss genus Tetraphis
. There are two species that can be found in North America, Tetraphis geniculata and Tetraphis
pellucida. Tetraphis geniculata is rare and grows in limited northern areas on both coasts of North America. It comes as far south as New Hampshire, but has not been sited in Connecticut. The image I have shown is of Tetraphis pellucida (once again taken at the Goodwin State Forest). This species is widespread across temperate areas of North America and is quite common in Connecticut. It grows most commonly on rotten tree parts (logs or branches) on the forest floor. Its common name is the Four-Toothed Moss.

The Land Plant Tool Kit

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchWe read an interesting scientific journal article in Bryology reading group today and I thought that I would share some of the moss related highlights.

Floyd, Sandra K. and John L. Bowman. The Ancestral Developmental Toolkit of Land Plants. International Journal of Plant Science 168 (1):1-35.

The main point of the paper was to compare the developmental genetics across an array of land plants, from mosses to ferns to conifers to flowering plants. The authors analyzed the functions of the genes in developmental systems (those systems that control how a plant grows and changes through its lifetime) to see how different types of plants use the same genes to perform different functions.

1. It w
as noted that genes present in mosses have been co-opted for different functions in other groups of plants. Basically, this means that rather than new genes evolving the plants utilize the genes that they already have in new ways.

2. The developmental toolkit of mosses has many of the same families of genes as flowering plants. A gene family is a group of genes that are similar to each other, but may have different functions. All the members of a gene family are descendant from an original gene that during the course of evolution was duplicated to produce multiple copies in an individual plant.

3. Mosses typically have fewer members of a gene family than flowering plants. The analyses of moss genetics are based on Physcomitrella patens. This species is the model organism moss. The entire genome of
Physcomitrella patens has been sequenced by the Joint Genome Institute, similar to the human genome project, but for a moss. It is available for use by the scientific community and is also open to the general public on the web. It provides a great resource for scientists to better understand how mosses develop and the genetics behind it. They are also offering a workshop in Freiburg, Germany to learn how to throughly utilize the genome and the computer software associated with it.

Overall I think that it is a pretty cool topic to ponder. Similar genetic systems are controlling the growth and development of both small mosses and large woody plants (aka. trees).

Wild Moss Video

I decided to search on YouTube this afternoon to see if there were any interesting videos of mosses and I came across this one. Its title is Spinning Plant Thing and the video along with comments regarding it can be seen here. It is a pretty entertaining video and a fun example of people observing the world around them, but having no idea what they are looking at. My favorite part is when they hypothesize that it is an alien!

What they are actually observing is a moss sporophyte, which consists of a stalk and capsule at the top. The moss species is most likely Funaria hygrometrica. (You can see the leafy gametophyte of this species in my post from October 5th.)
I can also explain the spinning. Funaria hygrometrica's common name is the cord moss, because the stalk that holds the capsule is very twisted when dry, like a cord of rope. When they add water it is absorbed into the cells and they straighten out and untwist the stalk. As the moss dries back up it twists again. This phenomenon is due to the arrangement of the cells in the stalk. The sporophyte is actually attached to the leafy green gametophyte part of the moss that it sticking out of. That part is hard to see in the video but they notice it is growing out of a patch of moss. I don't blame them for thinking that they were looking at two different plants the sporophyte and gametophyte of mosses look very different. One is leafy and green, while the other is leafless and usually yellow or brown. The part that people usually think of when they think of a moss is the leafy green portion.

Why are moss plants so short?

Here is a photo demonstration of the height difference between mosses and other plants such as trees. The mosses are in the foreground mixed in amongst the grass. They measure in at about 6 centimeters or so tall. Whereas the trees in the background are over 10 meters (1,000cm) tall. {Dig back for your scientific conversions if you have not used them in a while. There are 100 centimeters in a meter, so the decimal is moved two places to the right to convert from meters to centimeters}

So what is the cause of this extreme difference in height?

The answer is Water. Water is one of the required elements for plants to carry out photosynthesis and live. Plants such as trees absorb water through their root systems and then transport the water to their leaves, the site of photosynthesis, through conducting cells. The cells that move water from the roots to the leaves are called xylem cells. These cells are dead at maturity and are very tough. They are the type of plant cell that composes wood. The substance that adds to the strength of these cells and makes them retain water to function as internal plant piping is a compound called lignin.

Mosses however do not have lignin in any of their cell walls and they do not have xylem cells either. Thus mosses do not have an efficient system for transporting water within their body long distances. Mosses absorb all of their water from the outside environment directly through their leaves and stem. (Imagine drinking through your skin.) Most plants must be small in order to keep their entire body hydrated and thus are limited in the height to which they can grow while still maintaining wet leaves. Also without the strength that xylem cells provide a very tall moss would be super flimsy. It would be like trying to build a tree out of wet spaghetti noodles. Quite the difficult task. Mosses have thus maintained a small stature for millions of years and despite the time have not gotten any taller.

Sphagnum centrale

This is a cross section through a Sphagnum leaf. The leaf is unistratose, one cell layer thick and the pattern of chlorophyllose cells interspersed between hyaline cells can be seen. In this leaf the chlorophyllose cells are oval in shape and located directly in the middle of the line of cells. Examining the leaf cells in this manner is used to distinguish species of Sphagnum. The chlorophyllose cells may be a particular shape and they may be located toward the upper or lower surface of the leaf. Unfortunately this is a characteristic that requires making a very thin section through a leaf and a compound microscope. As I mentioned earlier determining the species of Sphagnum that you locate can be challenging, but not impossible.

The Peat Moss Saga (Part 2)

The plant body of Sphagnum mosses are made up of two types of cells. They are composed of small chlorophyllose cells that function in photosynthesis, the process by which plants use water, air, and light to make sugars. Most types of mosses are mainly composed of these green chlorophyllose cells. Sphagnum however has many large hyaline cells that make up the plant. These cells are colorless, transparent and open to the outside environment with pores in their cell walls. These cells function as storage reservoirs for water and enable peat moss to function as a plant sponge. With these spongy cells, Sphagnum can hold up to 20 times its dry weight in water! This is the main reason that Sphagnum is the most economically important group of mosses. Due to its absorptive properties peat moss has been used historically by Native Americans in baby diapers and during World War I in bandages. Peat moss is widely used in the horticultural trade as a soil additive and to pack plants for transport.

The photograph shown above is of a Sphagnum leaf. It was taken using a compound microscope looking at the leaf surface. Keep in mind the leaf is only one cell layer thick. That is how we can easily see through the leaf. Thin chlorophyllose cells are packed between the large hyaline cells. The hyaline cells have wall thickenings that appear as bands across the cells. Also circular pores can be seen enabling water to enter the hyaline cells.


I subscribe to a bryological listserve that is sponsored by the International Association of Bryologists called Bryonet. (Bryology is the scientific study of mosses, liverworts and hornworts. These are three separate lineages of green land plants.) I received a message over the listserve today that is related to this week's post about Sphagnum and thought that I would share. It is the announcement for the 4th International Meeting on the Biology of Sphagnum. I mentioned previously that Sphagnum is highly important group of mosses. Based on the fact that there are enough people in the world interested in Sphagnum to warrant an international meeting, I would say that there are a number of other people out there who share my opinion.

The Peat Moss Saga (Part 1)

Members of the moss genus Sphagnum grow in wet areas and are typically the dominant plants growing in bogs. They can be recognized by their distinctive growth form, which includes a head or capitulum of multiple branches at the apex. The branches that grow on the mid and lower portion of the stem are grouped into fascicles or bundles. Within these groups are branches that are pendant and others that are perpendicular to the stem. When examining the leaves with a hand lens it can be seen that they are curved at the apex into a scoop shape. Determining the species of Sphagnum can be notoriously difficult. It requires dissection of the plant to make a leaf cross section and a compound microscope. However once you have seen peat moss in the wild they are pretty unforgettable and the genus is easily recognized.

Sphagnum is the most economically important group of mosses and has a number of unique features with associated fun facts. Tune in Friday for the continuation of our journey into the world of the peat moss.

Moss Poetry

Mosses also serve as poetry muses. This poem was brought to my attention during discussions of my blog in my Science Communication Seminar. I think that it is a great verse and presents vivid imagery of moss. Enjoy!

Moss-Gathering by Theodore Roethke
To loosen with all ten fingers held wide and limber
And lift up a patch, dark-green, the kind for lining cemetery baskets,

Thick and cushiony, like an old-fashioned doormat,

The crumbling small hollow sticks on the underside mixed with roots,

And wintergreen berries and leaves still stuck to the top,—
That was moss-gathering
But something always went out of me when I dug loose those carpets

Of green, or plunged to my elbows in the spongy yellowish moss
of the marshes:
And afterwards I always felt mean, jogging back over the logging road,
As if I had broken the natural order of things in that swampland;
Disturbed some rhythm, old and of vast importance,

By pulling off flesh from the living planet;

As if I had committed, against the whole scheme of life, a desecration.

Tools of the Trade

I would like to introduce you to my hand lens or, as geologists like to call them, a loupe. This is a highly useful piece of equipment that I always take with me when on a hike or out looking at plants. It is great for zooming in on the tiny mosses that I love so very much. I guess that I could also use it to look at other interesting tiny things like insects, but they move a lot faster than mosses and thus may be more challenging to catch.

Hand lenses take a little practice to get used to using them. Proper technique is to hold the lens up to one eye and close the eye that you are not using. Usually I touch my hand to my face to keep the lens from wavering. Then holding the lens as still as possible, bring the specimen that you are looking at up to the lens and your face. Bracing your hands together while doing this will help decrease movement. Then you can make minor adjustments to get the part of the moss in focus that you are most interested in.

If you are in the market for a hand lens I can highly recommend those made by Bausch and Lomb. Hands lenses also come in a variety of magnifications from 7X to 20X. Most botanists that I know have 10X lenses, which is sufficient zoom for most small creatures. I have a 14X lens. The added magnification is great, however the trade off is that it has a smaller lens surface and a shorter focal depth. Be sure to put your lens on some type of string or lanyard to hang around your neck. Otherwise this small item can be easily lost.

The Mother-In-Law's Cushion

This is another one of the names for Leucobryum albidum, as mentioned on Monday. The story goes that this moss can grow in patches that are large enough to use as a seat on the forest floor. When you touch the top of this moss cushion it feels soft and dry. However you should only offer this seat to your mother-in-law. (Two assumptions of this tale are that you have a mother-in-law and that you like playing tricks on her.) When she sits down on this moss she will experience one of the benefits of growing in a cushion shaped colony. All of the individuals packed together function as a sponge and store water within the colony, so that there is moisture available for the moss to undergo photosynthesis even when it is dry. Having sat on this cushion your mother-in-law will end up with a very wet rear. Thus Leucobryum albidum also has been called the mother-in-law's cushion.

A Moss of Many Names

I have heard this moss species referred to as the white moss, the pincushion moss and mother-in-law's cushion. The scientific name for this plant is Leucobryum albidum. Based on the etymology of its name, white moss is probably the most appropriate. The prefix of the generic name comes from the Greek word leuco or leuko (spelling varies) which means white. {As I read over this post for a final check I was reminded of the father in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. He has a habit of connecting all words in English back to Greek roots. Just thought that I would share so that you too can read the post with a fun Greek accent.} The specific epithet albidum comes from the Latin word albus, also meaning white. So the scientific name tells us that this is a white, white bryum-like moss and the name describes this plant quite well. This moss has a distinctive white sheen and can be found on rotten logs or nestled up next to exposed tree roots as is this patch. I would say that it is one of the whitest moss that you will see in the forests of Connecticut, which makes this species easily recognized. Stay tuned for a discussion of an alternative name for this moss, the mother-in-law's cushion.

Where do the Mosses and Lichens Live?

All of the photographs that I have posted thus far, excluding the photo of Funaria hygrometrica, are of mosses and lichens growing at the James L. Goodwin State Forest in Hampton, Connecticut. It is one of the places where I lead moss walks during the summer. I went for a hike there a couple of weeks ago and took the pictures that I have been posting. So if you are interested in seeing these creatures in the flesh it is a nice place to visit. It is also a great place to go canoeing! (My shameless plug for the free and open to the public state forest.) When I was out canoing we spotted mosses growing on the logs and tree branches sticking out of the middle of the lake, which was very cool. I don't have any pictures of them, but if I am out on the lake again I will be sure to take some.

The Hairy Cap

Based on a request from last week, I have posted a photo of the hairy cap of Polytrichum commune. The technical name for this cap or hood is a calyptra (plural=calyptrae). It typically sits atop the moss sporophyte and covers the capsule. This highly hairy hood (try saying that 3 times fast) is a characteristic that is shared by members of the genus Polytrichum. Calyptrae may be found year round, but are most prevalent during the late summer and early fall in Polytrichum commune. The stalk, capsule and calyptra are attached atop the leafy portion of the moss. Check out the post from October 8th and imagine the structures shown today growing out of the apex of the leafy plant. If you have located the hairy calyptra you have found a Polytrichum.

Reindeer Lichen

This highly branched, 3-dimensional lichen is in the genus Cladina.

Is it a Moss?

It is small, greenish, growing on a tree, but is it a moss? Unfortunately it's not, no matter how much it might envy our green mossy pals it doesn't qualify. This critter is a lichen. Lichens are symbiotic organisms which consist of a fungus and an alga, either blue-green or green. Typically fungi are saprophytic, meaning they feed on dead or decaying material and are not able to produce their own food. This fungus has a different lifestyle and is a farmer. No digging through the trash to find sugars for him. Instead this fungus houses a alga which it keeps happy by supplying water, air, and sunlight. With that combination of supplies that alga undergoes photosynthesis to produce sugars that the fungus uses to live. It is a pretty smart system and works out well for both of the partners. The lichen pictured here is Flavoparmelia caperata, the common greenshield lichen. This species typically grows on bark and can be found across the eastern United States. So when you are out looking for mosses keep an eye out for the lichens as well.

Moss Snorkels

WARNING: This information is inaccutate. Please see this more recent post for additional information.

Mosses along with all other plants need water, sunlight and air to live. However mosses don't have roots, which is the usual way that plants move water into their bodies. Instead they take up water from the environment through their outer layer of cells. They also exchange gases through this layer of cells. This causes a dilemma. Mosses have to drink and breathe through their "skin". Polytrichum commune and its close relatives have come up with a ingenious solution to this problem. They have snorkels. Okay they are not technically called snorkels, they are called lamellae, but that is what I like to refer to them as when I explain how they work. When the moss leaves are wet their entire surface is covered by a film of water. Gas exchange cannot happen through the water, but the snorkels stick out above the water and are dry at the tips to allow for gas exchange. The image that I posted is a section through a Polytrichum commune leaf, with the top side up and the bottom side down. The shiny white cells make up the thickened portion of the leaf and each green filaments of cells is a snorkel. Then wet, the spaces between the snorkels are flooded with water and the upper-most snorkel cell is exposed to the air. If you zoom in on this picture you may be able to see that the upper-most snorkel cells have a notch or divot in them. This is a microscopic clue that tells us this leaf is definitely from Polytrichum commune.

Mugshot of a Moss

Based on a comment from last week I decided to introduce Polytrichum commune, the common hair capped moss (hairy cap not pictured). This species can be found in wet areas of yards or meadows across North America and beyond. I discovered this individual growing in a wet spot next to a picnic shelter. This species is easily recognized by its stout appearance and star shaped spray of leaves, which can be seen when viewed from above. The individuals are pretty large as far as mosses go. The one pictured here is about 4cm tall and they can reach heights of 30cm or more. However those that I have seen around Connecticut are usually not skyscraper sized and range from 4 to 10cm. This is a species that I run across nearly every time I am out looking at mosses.

Why are Mosses cool?

Have you ever been walking through the woods and noticed a patch of green on the side of a tree, rock or fallen log? Well you might have spotted a moss. Mosses are plants, typically small, and come in a variety of shapes and shades of green. One of the great things about them is that they are more and more interesting the closer that you get to them. What appears to be a swatch of green at a distance is actually a miniature forest up close. This is an image of a colony of Funaria hygrometrica, the cord moss, that I have growing in the laboratory. The mosses growing outside in Connecticut are currently not very photogenic due to the drought and heat wave we are having. But don't worry, mosses are quite resilient and most types can come back to life after drying to a crisp.