Field of Science

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.


  1. I'm sure you noticed the double posting Jessica, but in case you hadn't, a heads up.

    Also, when using the Read More feature, make sure you copy and paste in your text not using compose mode, but in edit html mode instead. That way you can keep track of the span tags. Looks like you might have figured that out however. :D

  2. Thanks for the heads up about the double post. I was running out the door to go to pottery class and did not notice that it had loaded twice.

    As for the read more feature it took me a while to get the hang of it. I am not html code savvy and I definitely had some frustrated yelling at the computer screen moments. I think that I have the hang of it now, but thanks for the advice. :)


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