Field of Science

Berry Go Round #12

This botanical carnival has almost arrived full circle with the twelfth edition posted at Foothills Fancies. Check out all of the green plants to help you make it through the snowiness of winter. We are due for 5-9 inches here in Connecticut today. You may not know, but if you peak beneath the snow you will find that the mosses are in a green suspended animation. They are still alive and will resume growth in the spring. Just be sure to cover them back up, because the snow acts as insulation.

Happy New Year Celebrations!

For more about blog carnivals and my posts about the earlier editions of Berry Go Round, click here.

Bryo Emails

I don't know about you, but I have a love-hate relationship with my email. I love being able to efficiently communicate with colleagues. I hate SPAM. I love being able to keep in touch with far away friends. I hate that email can eat up hours out of an otherwise productive day. I love getting updates on a scientific journal's table of contents, so that I don't have to remember to check them. I hate chain-mail that says this must be forwarded lest bad luck will befall you. You get the picture and may have a similar relationship with your email. However it is a necessary evil for many people including me that must be dealt with on a daily basis.

Another item in the love of email column is hearing from people who have read and enjoyed my blog. That is always a bright spot to my day! However I have to admit that my responses to blog emails tend to be shuffled to the bottom of my email list. It can take a couple of weeks for me to make it around to composing a response, especially at crunch times during the semester. So if you are one of those people waiting to hear back from me, I apologize for the delay, but know that you are not forgotten and are on my list.

Speaking of my tardy responses, a few weeks ago I heard from Annette, who has a website about plants (in German) and a more specific site about mosses and liverworts (in German and English). For the bryophytes, she has posted 2 or more color photos for each of the species covered on the website. The photos are really great! They range from broad habit shots down to some higher magnification photos where clusters of antheridia can be seen. There is also an alphabetical list of the species that she has photographed with internal links to the photos. Overall I think that it is a nicely composed website and I would recommend that you check it out to enjoy the beautiful bryophyte photography that Annette has on display.

Berry Go Round #11

The eleventh edition of Berry Go Round has been posted at Catalogue of Organisms. I especially enjoyed the post about the stinking Ginkgo seeds. I had some of them in a savory egg custard in Japan and they are really nice to eat. It was quite the pleasant surprise. I think that the way they are prepared neutralizes the butyric acid, which causes the stinkiness. I would definitely recommend giving them a try in their cooked form.

For more about blog carnivals and my posts about the earlier editions of Berry Go Round, click here.

Moss Life Cycle 3

The spores land on a suitable substrate (either soil, tree bark or rocks, depending on the species) and grow to form a filamentous mat, called protonema (7 o'clock). These protonema filaments have been compared to both algae and rhizoid filaments that attach bryophytes to their substrate.

Each protonema mat can produce many leafy buds that will develop into grown mossy plants (9 o'clock). Thus you can have many individual gametophyte stems in the same patch that are genetically identical to each other. Think clones from your favorite sci-fi movie. All that is needed is a single spore to produce an entire mossy patch.

And there we have it. We have made it all the way through the moss life cycle, hopefully without to much brain strain and confusion. If you have any questions about the life cycle feel free to drop me a line in the comment section.

The Moss Life Cycle 2

The last we heard form our moss life cycle we had arrived at fertilization. This process produces a diploid sporophyte that has two sets of chromosomes per cell. The sporophyte starts out as a small embryo (12 o'clock photo) that grows (2 o'clock photo) and grows (4 o'clock photo). The sporophyte consists of a stalk that elevates the capsule, also called a sporangium, "high" into the air. (Height is relative. The stalk is only a few centimeters tall, but it is much taller than the green leafy gametophyte.)

Inside the capsule, spores (6 o'clock) are produced. They are formed by the cell division process of meiosis. This process takes diploid sporophyte cells and produces haploid spores. Basically it takes the number of chromosomes in a parent cell and decreases them by half in the child cells. These spores leave the capsule flying on the wind and are the part of the moss life cycle that is the main dispersal unit.

They land on a suitable place to grow and... (stay tuned for the continuing adventures of the moss life cycle.)

Bryonet moves to the Blogosphere

Bryonet is an email discussion group operated by the International Association of Bryologists. This listserve facilitates communication among professional bryologists and is a forum for posing questions about bryophytes to a wider audience.

Now this listserve has stepped into the blogosphere and can be found at The most recent list of posts center on the latest bryophyte classification and a discussion of monophyly.

Stay tuned for upcoming discussions and announcements.

Mosses and the Masses

Ethnobryology is the scientific study of the relationships between people and bryophytes. Some of the uses that people have for mosses and their bryophyte pals include: pollution indicators, decoration in horticulture, fuel, and medicinal purposes. The article that we read last week in laboratory group focused on both folk naming of mosses and their uses in traditional cultures.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchHarris, Eric S. J. 2008 Ethnobryology: traditional uses and folk classifications of bryophytes. Bryologist 111(2):169-217.

The discussion of the naming of mosses was really interesting. Dr. Harris points out that many small organisms tend to be lumped together into a group and all called 'mosses'. These include lichens, red algae, lycopods, and the flowering plant Spanish moss. A good point that he makes is that people operate on a large scale from centimeters to kilometers. Mosses are small and the features that are typically used to tell species apart are super tiny and difficult or impossible to see without a microscope. So its small, green, hard to tell apart, then people historically called it a 'moss', whether on not the organisms were actually close relatives.

Dr. Harris identified 150 species with traditional ethnobryological uses. The largest category was medicinal (41%), with uses ranging from treating heart conditions to regrowing hair. Many of these treatments are used and were determined from Traditional Chinese Medicine. In addition to medicinal mosses are used for chinking spaces in the walls of houses, decoration, cleaning, packing, and bedding. This article makes it apparent that traditional cultures are much more connected to the plants that surround them and use them in their everyday lives.

Despite all these uses, most people in the USA probably do not have much personal use of mosses in their daily lives. Besides studying them professionally, the only time I think that I use them is when peat moss comes mixed in the potting soil that I buy for my houseplants. If you have any other uses for mosses in your everyday life feel free to share them in the comments section.

The Moss Life Cycle 1

If you remember anything about plants from biology class you might recall learning about life cycles. Typically this is a challenging and dreaded concept for students to learn. Life cycles involve a lot of new terminology and there are different cycles for every group of plants.

Personally I really like life cycles and I think that they are critical to understanding plant biology. The life cycle of mosses is something that I think about on a daily basis, but I know that is a little out of the ordinary. Below, I introduce the moss life cycle using the moss species that I study, Funaria hygrometrica, so that those of you who aren't as intimately involved with plants would have a good summary of how it all works.

I am going to break this topic down into a few posts since it is a lot of information to digest at once.

Starting on the far left (9 o'clock) is an image of the leafy green gametophyte (aka. the moss plant). This portion of the life cycle is haploid, meaning that it has one set of chromosomes per cell. It is different from the large photosynthetic portion of most plants which is diploid with two sets per cell. It is photosynthetic, capturing sunlight water and carbon dioxide to make sugars.

The function of the gametophyte in the life cycle is to make gametangia. Gametangia (antheridia- male & archegonia - female) are the sexual reproductive structures. Thus the gametophyte is the sexual stage of the life cycle.

At 11 o'clock are two images of these sexual reproductive organs that are produced by the leafy gametophyte. To the far left are the antheridia and below toward the right is an archegonium.

The antheridia are the dark brown structures that each produce hundreds of sperm. The single thin structure is an archegonium which contains only one egg per. The sperm and egg cells are also called gametes.

So we have gametophytes (mossy plant) that make gametangia (antheridia & archegonia) which produce gametes (sperm & egg). All of these structures are haploid and are produced by mitosis. In this process of cell division there is no change in the number of chromosomes per cell .

If you have any tips or comments on learing about the life cycle of mosses, feel free to share in the comments section. Stay tuned for the next installment of the life cycle.

Berry Go Round #10

The tenth edition of Berry Go Round has been posted at 10,000 Birds. Berry Go Round is a monthly blog carnival all about plants. Enjoy!

For more about blog carnivals and my posts about the earlier editions of Berry Go Round, click here.

Mosses in a Magazine

An article came out this month in the New Life Journal about gardening with mosses. This article was written by of Mountain Moss in North Carolina.

The article has some good moss biology tucked among the gardening tips. She discusses the fact that mosses do not have roots and instead have rhizoids to attach them to the soil. Also she touches on the fact that mosses do not have xylem cells to move water inside their plant body.

Another interesting tidbit that she shares is that mosses can even be seen in the 5000 year old gardens in Kyoto, Japan. I linked to the article that she cited, because I was interested to see if they were talking about the moss temple (Saiho-ji). I visited this temple while I was in Japan this past summer and I was excited to hear what they had to say about it. (Click here for a link to my post about the Saiho-ji temple in Kyoto.)

I was surprised to discover that the Smithsonian Magazine article that she cited did not mention the Saiho-ji temple. Instead it focused on the Ryoan-ji temple (the temple of the peaceful dragon). The focal point of this temple is a zen rock garden that has a number of rocks and mosses surrounded by raked stones.

This is one of the temples in Kyoto that I visited in addition to the Saiho-ji temple. There were not nearly as many mosses as the moss temple, but being that it was a zen aesthetic, less is more. The zen rock garden was very peaceful looking place and my photos capture its true essence.

However being there was quite a different exprience. All the visitiors to the garden sit on a large wooden porch overlooking the area shown here in the photos. You might think that everyone would be sitting quietly meditating as they stare at the stones. If that is what you imagined then you would be wrong. It is more like 40 foreigners sitting on the porch chatting loudly, some of them talking on their cell phones, while the zen stones stare back in dismay.

I was really surprised that they didn't have some sort of talking rules to encourage a meditative atmosphere. Oh well, I will just have to enjoy the meditative experience from my silent photos. It's a little sad that they are better than the actual experience, but I am glad to have gone and given it a try.

Some More Mosses from Japan

While in Japan I traveled to the small town of Nozawa Onsen. It is about an hour north of Nagano, via train and then bus. Nozawa is nestled in the mountains and is famous for the many onsen (hot springs) that dot the village. I hear that it is also a great place to ski and we saw many ski lifts heading up into the surrounding mountains. While walking around town we visited a shrine that was surrounded by moss.

However, I did not collect any mosses. I am not sure what the karma impact might be from collecting moss from the grounds of a shrine. So I just took some pictures instead.

The photo to the right is a member of the Orthotricaceae. All of the little tan/brown structures are the sporophytes. The Orthotricaceae are recognized by their short sporophytes with upright capsules. Typically they grow on tree bark or rocks and have dark green gametophytes that can sometimes appear black when dry.

Sculptures on the grounds of the shrine were covered in mosses!

These a a couple of shots of some Fissidens sp. Members of this genus have a really gorgeous morphology! The leaves do not spiral around the stem as in most mosses. In Fissidens they have a distichous leaf arrangement, meaning that they are positioned 180 degrees opposite each other on the stem. It is the same leaf arrangement that you see in Iris plants. This distintictive pattern of leaves makes mosses in the genus Fissidens stand out from other species in the field.

Examining Moss Filaments: Protonema & Rhizoids

Every week members of the Goffinet Laboratory group meet to discuss a research journal article about bryophytes. The papers that we read range from morphological to molecular and may relate to either mosses, hornworts, or liverworts, all of which we study in the laboratory. Last week's paper focused on moss protonema and rhizoids.

Protonema are unicellular filaments of haploid/gametophyte tissue. In the moss life cycle a spore germinates to produce filamentous protonema that then develop into leafy gametophytes. At right is a photograph of the protonema of Funaria hygrometrica.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchPressel, S., Ligrone, R. and J. G. Duckett. 2008. Cellular Differentiation in Moss Protonemata: A Morphological and Experimental Study. Annals of Botany 102:227-245.

This research paper focuses on three types of bryophyte filaments: chloronema and caulonema (both types of protonema) and rhizoids. They define rhizoids as filaments that are produced only by the mature leafy gametophyte plants. They are often pigmented brown and function to attach the gametophyte to the substrate (soil, tree bark, or rock that they are growing on).

They had a number of goals for their research, but I am not going to go into all of them. The one that I found the most interesting was that they examined 200 moss species and determined the cellular changes that occur during differentiation of the caulonema and rhizoid filaments. (Differentiation is the process by which cells acquire all of the characteristics that they will have at maturity.) You may ask why just describe a maturation process inside of the cells. Well as the authors mention (and I wholeheartedly agree), it is important to describe the sequence of events that occur in these filaments because it lays the foundation for future experiments. Researchers have to know how structures develop normally, so that they have a control/baseline to compare to experiments.

Additionally, the paper is full of great images. There are light microscopy photos zoomed in to the point that you can see the nucleus inside of the cell. Some of the other images illustrate a feature that I had not heard of before. The rhizoids produce a mucilage sheath (i.e. slime) that covers the entire outside of the cell wall. The remainder of the images are transmission electron micrographs that show all sorts of cellular structures. You can see mitochondria, chloroplasts, golgi bodies and nuclei, just to name a few. In order to see these structures some serious magnification is needed. These organelles are probably magnified 10,000-50,000X. I think that it is just really fabulous that we can see all of these tiny biological features inside of the cells!

Berry Go Round #9

The ninth edition of Berry Go Round has been posted at Gravity's Rainbow. Berry Go Round is a monthly blog carnival all about plants. Enjoy!

For more about blog carnivals and my posts about the earlier editions of Berry Go Round, click here.

Mossy Frog at the New England Aquarium

I visited Boston a couple of weeks ago and we stopped in for an afternoon at the New England Aquarium. It was my first visit and I enjoyed it immensely. My favorites included the 70 year old green sea turtle who doesn't like to eat broccoli, but she does like lettuce and brussel sprouts. They also have a great exhibit about jellyfish. The jellyfish were very beautifully dangerous floating around in their tanks. The exhibit also included a lot of educational information regarding jellyfish populations and global climate change. With the warming of the oceans we are in for some serious jellyfish overpopulation issues and since these animals are predators they are going to eat quite a lot of the other sea creatures. Good for the jellyfish. Bad for everything else.

In a surprising turn of events I ran into some moss at the aquarium! Mainly it was used in the exhibits of the tropical species to soften the surroundings, keep things moist, and add some greenery. The photo below was the mossiest one of them all!

And what animal just happens to live in the display full of moss? Oh, the mossy frog Theloderma corticale. Many organisms have common names that describe the other plants or animals that they look like. There are the fern mosses (Thuidium sp.) and the feather mosses (Hypnum sp.), just to name a few.

I would have to agree that this frog is well camoflauged to sit on mossy tree trunks and hide from predators. It is an example of an organism evolving to blend in with its surroundings. Those frogs who did not blend in would have been eaten by predators and those that blended in would have been survived to reproduce more mossy looking frogs. This system of natural selection over many years has led to the highly patterned and frilly frog that we see today. (Check out the bottom photo to get a sense of how frilly the arms and legs of the frog were. That was my favorite part about him/her!)

Here is a close up shot of the little guy/gal. I had a hard time shooting through the glass front of the exhibit , so I apologize for the fuziness. You can see some additional photos on the wiki page of this frog species.

Practicing your Spanish and Reading about Bryophytes

Juan Carlos, one of my labmates, sent out a link to this bryology blog written in Spanish. It has been online since January 2008, but I was unaware of it. I read some Spanish, but a majority of the bryology literature that I read is in English.

The aim of the blog is to share news of interest about bryology, bryologists and their research with the international community. Anyone who wishes can contribute to this blog. There are instructions for adding a post on the website.

There are several nice features in the sidebar on the right that. There is a list of bryology articles that have been published recently in scientific journals. There are also links to some of the top bryology journals in the field, so that you can browse through to see the tables of contents. You may not be able to access the full articles from home, but if you are at a university then you would probably have access. Finally there are a number of links to information pages about Latin American bryophytes. I think that it is a very nice website, but the posting is a little infrequent. So if you have anything to say about bryophytes, in Spanish, or about Latin American bryophytes, this would be the place to share it.

New Addition to the Goffinet Lab Website

One of my advisors, Dr. Bernard Goffinet, maintains a website for our bryophyte lab group. Recently two classification outlines were added to the website (under the heading Links), one each for mosses and hornworts. For the mosses there is an alphabetical list of all the current genera at the top of the page. By clicking on a genus name you are whisked away to the location of that genus in the overall classification.

If is has been a while since you thought about classification systems for organisms you might need to bust out your favorite old pneumonic device. The one I learned was Kings Play Cards On Fat Green Stools, which usually helps me to remember Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species. However the latest classification schemes have added another layer above Kingdom, which is Domain. There are three of these and plants fall into the Domain Eukarya. I won't bore you with the history of how we arrived at this three domain system, but if you are interested the wiki page for biological classification has some good info. So for mosses the upper end of the classification goes something like this...

Domain Eukarya
Kingdom Plantae
Phylum Bryophyta

The online classification starts with Subdivisions, a half step below Phylum, and then continues on from there. Besides Subdivision, there are a couple other classification ranks that may be unfamiliar, but they are pretty intuitive. From this list you can see other closely related genera, closely related families, and so on.

The hornwort classification is maintained by one of my labmates, Juan Carlos Villarreal and it comes with detailed descriptions of the individual genera.

Overall I think that it is a great contribution to have this information out on the web. The classification systems will also be coming out in print in the second edition of Bryophyte Biology, from Cambridge University Press. This book will be available to the public in November. Until then, enjoy this advance version of the classifications.

Saiho-ji Temple: The Moss Temple

While in Japan I visited the city of Kyoto and the Saiho-ji Temple. This is a Buddhist Temple that has approximately 120 different species growing on the grounds. Reservations are required and there is a 3000 yen fee, but it is well worth the money.

The mosses were a little crispy, seeing as how I visited during the dry hot part of the summer. I think that this temple would be even better to visit during the rainy season in the spring and earlier summer. I am not quite sure that I saw 120 species of mosses, but they covered all the available surfaces on the grounds.

One of my favorite parts were the grounds keepers who were sweeping the leaves off of the mosses and keeping them tidy. They were using traditional brooms, which I thought was a great touch. I would highly recommend it as a great place to see mosses, if you are ever in Japan. However it is not the place to go collecting. I had the urge to put some of the moss in my pocket, but I thought that would be frowned upon. So I resisted and instead took many photos to remember the visit.

A tree base surrounded by
Leucobryum sp.

A New Bryophyte Website

I recently heard about a new bryophyte website brought to you by the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Garden. The website includes some general information on bryophytes, such as life cycles, ecology and classification. A good bit of the information is Australia specific. I especially enjoyed the information on Australian Bryogeography and Endemic Species. There is also a whole section detailing the history of bryology in Australia.

The website is really well done and it provides a wealth of information. In particular, check out the link to the case studies. There are approximately 30 entries that boil down scientific research articles into easily digestible summaries with helpful figures.

There is also a list of identification guides for Australian bryophytes. Basically, if you are interested in bryophytes in Australia this is the website for you.

Berry Go Round #8

The eighth edition of Berry Go Round has been posted at Not Exactly Rocket Science. This is a monthly blog carnival all about plants. Enjoy!

For more about blog carnivals and my posts about the earlier editions of Berry Go Round, click here.

Back Home

Whew! The last few weeks in Japan were quite the whirlwind. I have arrived in Connecticut and am settling back into life and research. All the business has kept me away from the blog, but I am hoping to be back to regular postings starting this week.

I also wanted to announce that I will be leading a Moss Walk at the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic, CT at the end of September. Click here for more details about the workshop.

Japanese Marchantia Videos

There are a number of really cool time lapse videos posted online of Marchantia liverworts. The text is all in Japanese, but the videos are well worth watching. A few of them are self-explanatory, while others are a little abstract if you have not looked at liverworts too closely. A link to the webpage with the videos is here.

I have watched the videos and here is my interpretation/summary of what they are showing.

Row 1
Left: A Marchantia plant is shown growing. This is a great example of flabellate dichotomous branching. The apex divides into two (dichotomous) branches that are equal in size and it occurs in a fan-like (flabellate) shape, all in a single flattened plane.
Watch gemmae grow inside of a gemmae cup. Gemmae are small discs of plant tissue. They are located inside a splash cup. When raindrops fall into the cup they dislodge the gemmae and splash them out onto the soil. One gemmae can grow into an entirely new Marchantia plant. This is a from of asexual reproduction.

Row 2 - All about sperm
Left: A drop of water is added to the surface of an antheridiophore. This is an umbrella shaped structure that houses the antheridia, the organs that produce sperm. When the water is added some cloudy areas appear in the liquid.
Middle: This is a zoomed in shot of the previous video. Sperm are being released from a pore in the surface of the antheridiophore. The antheridia are located in cavities below the surface of the plant.
Right: Even more zoomed in. Aren't microscopes fabulous! Here you can see the flagellated sperm swimming in a twirly, spiral dance.

My summaries of Rows 3 & 4 are below the fold.

Row 3 - More sperm and closer to fertilization
Left: Sperm are shown swimming toward the neck of an archegonium, the organ that produces and contains a single egg.
Right: Then the sperm are shown swimming into the neck of the archegonium toward the egg. After fertilization a sporophyte (2n, diploid) is produced.

Row 4
Left: These umbrella-shaped structures growing out of the thallus are archegoniaphores. They house the archegonia, the organs that produce and contain eggs.
Unfortunately the link to this video does not work. The image is of an archegoniaphore whose archegonia have undergone fertilization and sporophytes have been produced. The yellow powder coming out of the archegoniaphores is spores.

This video shows spores being released from the sporophytes on the archegoniaphores. The umbrella-tops of the archegoniaphores have flipped up, as though they were blown inside out in a strong wind. All of the particles blowing around in the breeze are spores. Each of these spores can land and grow into an entire new Marchantia plant.

It's All About the Wind

Have you ever wondered how mosses travel from one continent to the next?

A typical answer is that moss spores can be transported long distances by winds such as the jet-stream. You might just take that response at face value and happily go on with your day. Or you might respond, "That is an interesting hypothesis, but do you have any evidence to support it?" As a scientist my responses usually tend toward the latter, being a questioning and skeptical sort of person.
(Side Note: A hypothesis is a suggested explanation based on previous observations. You can come up with hypotheses for all sorts of phenomena, but until you have data or evidence to support your hypothesis it does not carry much weight. It just an idea.)

Well here is an interesting paper that sheds some light and data on this topic.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchJesús Muñoz, Ángel M. Felicísimo, Francisco Cabezas, Ana R. Burgaz, and Isabel Martínez. 2004. Wind as a Long-Distance Dispersal Vehicle in the Southern Hemisphere. Science Vol. 304, no. 5674, pp. 1144-1147.

In this study the authors were interested in whether the plants were more similar 1) on islands that were closer to each other or 2) on islands that were connected by 'wind-highways'. They focused on plants (and fungi) that are spread by spores. Included in the study were mosses, liverworts, lichens, and pteridophytes (aka. ferns). They collected data for these plants from different continents and islands around Antarctica. Also they used wind data to determine where the wind-highways are located.

Then comes their statistical tests and it is a little intense, just to warn you. Scientific papers published in Journals like Science and Nature are usually pretty short and can pack a punch. Figure 1 is pretty cool. It shows how connected Bouvet Island (loc. 8) is to other locations by the wind-highways.

The Take Home Message: For the mosses, liverworts, and lichens their data showed that the lands connected via the wind-highways had more similar species growing on them. This supports the hypothesis that the plants (and lichens) are traveling from one place to the next on the winds.

So the next time someone asks you how mosses travel from one continent to the next (Ok I admit you might never be asked that question, but who knows?), you can confidently state that they travel using the wind. And you can point to this paper to back you up.

Berry Go Round #7

The seventh edition of Berry Go Round has been posted at A Blog Around the Clock. I submitted one of my posts from earlier this month, the one about moss sperm. Not only is my blog included in the carnival but two of my posts made the lineup. The carnival edition is setup with photos and tag lines for each of the articles. The tag lines are pretty funny and I would recommend reading them out loud for added enjoyment.

For more about blog carnivals and my posts about the earlier editions of Berry Go Round, click here.

Mosses in the Azores

Mosses are everywhere! Connecticut, Japan, and the Azores (a group of islands off the coast of Portugal) just to name a few. Information came out over Bryonet recently about an online biodiversity portal that has been developed for the plants and animals of the Azores. The website can be viewed in Spanish, Portuguese and English. They break the database down into the specific groups of plants and animals, with an entire database devoted to the bryophytes. There is a species list that you can browse through or you can search for your favorite genus.

I ran a little search and discovered that my research moss Funaria hygrometrica is located on two of the nine islands. When I clicked on a particular island a 500 X 500 meter distribution map is displayed, which is quite helpful for narrowing down hunting areas when searching for moss.

Microarthropods Help to Disperse Sperm

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research
rg, N., R. Natcheva, and K. Hedlund. 2006. Microarthropods Mediate Sperm Transfer in Mosses Science 313: 1255.

I was tidying up my computer desktop today and came across a really cool article about moss sperm. Yes, mosses have sperm. They are flagellated and get around by swimming in water. This fact can limit the distance that sperm can travel since they need a film of water to swim through. This is not an issue for plants such as pine trees and dandelions, because their equivalent dispersal units are pollen. Pollen is more easily dispersed since it can be transported long distances via wind or animal pollinators.

There are some interesting ways that bryophytes can disperse their sperm. One of them is a type of liverwort that explosively sends its sperm into the air, thus sending it farther from the parent plant. I discussed this Airborne Sperm Dispersal and the associated video in a previous post. Click here for a link to that blog post.

Getting back to the paper at hand, researchers hypothesized that sperm could be dispersed via small arthropods such as springtails and mites. Animals act as pollinators for many flowering plants, maybe they interact with the sperm of mosses as well?

They tested this hypothesis in an experiment where they placed the male and female mosses at different distances from each other and with or without microarthropods. They found that the mosses that were separated without a film of water connecting them could not reproduce. The sperm could not travel to the eggs without the water and no sporophytes were produced. When the microarthropods were added to containers under these same conditions ... (drumm-roll) ... sporophytes were produced! They are not sure exactly how, but the sperm were able to catch a ride on the arthropods and to be transported from the male to female mosses. It is a pretty amazing feat if you ask me and I think that it would be great to see a SEM photo of the sperm attached to the microarthropods.

In case you have never before seen one, this is a photo of some moss antheridia of Funaria hygrometrica that I took. Sperm are made inside of the brown antheridia. My former officemate always describes them as 'corn dog-shaped' when teaching. The green structures intermingled with them are hairs with swollen apical cells.

Check out the original article too see their data and figures. It is a short, but good, read.

More Moss Poetry

The Moss supplicateth for the Poet
by Richard Henry Dana, Sr.

THOUGH I am humble, slight me not,
But love me for the Poet's sake;
Forget me not till he's forgot;
For care or slight with him I take.

For oft he passed the blossoms by,
And turned to me with kindly look;
Left flaunting flowers and open sky;
And wooed me by the shady brook.

And like the brook his voice was low:
So soft, so sad the words he spoke,
That with the stream they seemed to flow:
They told me that his heart was broke.

They said the world he fain would shun,
And seek the still and twilight wood, -
His spirit, weary of the sun,
In humblest things found chiefest good;

That I was of a lowly frame,
And far more constant than the flower,
Which, vain with many a boastful name,
But fluttered out its idle hour;

That I was kind to old decay,
And wrapped it softly round in green,
On naked root, and trunk of gray,
Spread out a garniture and screen.

They said, that he was withering fast,
Without a sheltering friend like me;
That on his manhood fell a blast,
And left him bare, like yonder tree;

That spring would clothe his boughs no more,
Nor ring his boughs with song of bird, -
Sounds like the melancholy shore
Alone were through his branches heard.

(This poem was a little long to post in one chunk. The remainder can be found below the fold.)

Methought, as then he stood to trace
The withered stems, there stole a tear, -
That I could read in his sad face,
Brothers, our sorrows make us near.

And then he stretched him all along,
And laid his head upon my breast,
Listening the water's peaceful song: -
How glad was I to tend his rest!

Then happier grew his soothed soul;
He turned and watched the sunlight play
Upon my face, as in it stole,
Whispering, Above is brighter day!

He praised my varied hues, - the green,
The silver hoar, the golden, brown;
Said, Lovelier hues were never seen;
Then gently pressed my tender down.

And where I sent up little shoots;
He called them trees, in fond conceit:
Like silly lovers in their suits
He talked, his care awhile to cheat.

I said, I'd deck me in the dews,
Could I but chase away his care,
And clothe me in a thousand hues,
To bring him joys that I might share.

He answered, earth no blessing had
To cure his lone and aching heart;
That I was one, when he was sad,
Oft stole him from his pain, in part.

But e'en from thee, he said, I go,
To meet the world, its care and strife,
No more to watch this little flow,
Or spend with thee a gentle life.

That I was of a lowly frame,
And far more constant than the flower,
Which, vain with many a boastful name,
But fluttered out its idle hour;

That I was kind to old decay,
And wrapped it softly round in green,
On naked root, and trunk of gray,
Spread out a garniture and screen.

They said, that he was withering fast,
Without a sheltering friend like me;
That on his manhood fell a blast,
And left him bare, like yonder tree;

That spring would clothe his boughs no more,
Nor ring his boughs with song of bird, -
Sounds like the melancholy shore
Alone were through his branches heard.

Methought, as then he stood to trace
The withered stems, there stole a tear, -
That I could read in his sad face,
Brothers, our sorrows make us near.

And then he stretched him all along,
And laid his head upon my breast,
Listening the water's peaceful song: -
How glad was I to tend his rest!

Then happier grew his soothed soul;
He turned and watched the sunlight play
Upon my face, as in it stole.
Whispering, Above is brighter day!

He praised my varied hues, - the green,
The silver hoar, the golden, brown;
Said, Lovelier hues were never seen;
Then gently pressed my tender down.

And where I sent up little shoots,
He called them trees, in fond conceit:
Like silly lovers in their suits
He talked, his care awhile to cheat.

I said, I'd deck me in the dews,
Could I but chase away his care,
And clothe me in a thousand hues,
To bring him joys that I might share.

He answered, earth no blessing had
To cure his lone and aching heart;
That I was one, when he was sad,
Oft stole him from his pain, in part.

But e'ven from thee, he said, I go,
To meet the world, its care and strife,
No more to watch this little flow,
Or spend with thee a gentle life.

And yet the brook is gliding on,
And I, without a care, at rest,
While he to toiling life is gone;
Nor finds his head a faithful breast.

Deal gently with him, world, I pray;
Ye cares, like softened shadows come;
His spirit, wellnigh worn away,
Asks with ye but awhile a home.

O, may I live, and when he dies
Be at his feet a humble sod;
O, may I lay me where he lies,
To die when he awakes in God!

Poetry that Mentions Moss

This is an excerpt of the poem Cloudberry Summer by Amy Clampitt. I have not read any of her poetry, besides this excerpt. I just heard about this mossy mentioning through the grapevine and decided to pass it along.
This poem can be found in its entirety in the poetry collection entitled 'What the Light Was Like'.

First verse of the poem Cloudberry Summer by Amy Clampitt

First ventured into
in mid-July, the bog's sodden hollow
muffled the uproar of the shore
it hunkered in the lee of. Wrung residues
of sphagnum moss steeped in self-
manufactured acids stained the habitat's
suffusing waters brown...

The biology in this poem is completely accurate. Sphagnum moss actually makes the water that it lives in more acidic by releasing hydrogen ions and thus decreasing the pH of the bog water. Amazing, poetry and biology all wrapped into one!

Flora of Japan Online

I discovered today that there is an online version of the Flora of Japan. Unfortunately it does not include any bryophytes, so no mosses, hornworts, or liverworts. The website allows you search for your favorite vascular plants in Japan by family, genus, or specific epithet. Some of the interesting features are that is gives you the common name of the plant in Japanese, both in romanji (roman letters that allow you to sound out the word) and in katakana (japanese characters used for spelling out typically foreign words). It also lists the other things you might expect from a flora: a brief description of the plant and habitat, the distribution in Japan and other countries, as well as the reference to the initial description of the species.

I looked up the listing for
Isoetes, the fern relatives (Lycophytes) that I studied when I was an undergraduate student. They have four species in Japan. One of them is even named in honor of Japan, Isoetes japonica, which would make the common name in English the japanese quillwort (quill - referring to the fact that the leaves are hollow and slender like the quill of a feather and wort - an Old English word for plant). Its common name in Japanese is Mizu-nira, which translates to water-scallion. Both of these common names quillwort and water-scallion are really great descriptions for Isoetes.

If you have never seen an
Isoetes, I have included a couple of photos that I had saved on my computer. This is Isoetes riparia (shore quillwort) and I found it growing around the edge of the Mansfield Hollow Dam, which is just down the road from the University of Connecticut. When the water level in the dam is high this plant would be submerged in up to six inches of water. This is fine by the quillwort. It doesn't mind being wet. Isoetes are typically aquatic or shore-edge plants and are found worldwide.

I can hardly believe that there was a time long ago in a state far away when I studied ferns and did not have any particular interest in mosses. (Well ok, it was only six years ago in Ohio.) Though they are not mosses, Isoetes are really great plants and were super fun to study!

Identifying Japanese Mosses

I have been walking around Japan for the past three weeks looking at all the amazing plants and having no idea what they are called. Ok I am exaggerating a little, I do have some idea. I can identify most of the flowering plants to family. For the ferns and bryophytes I can get down to a genus. So I asked Dr. Hasebe if there are any Japanese field guides that are in English. I have learned some key Japanese phrases but am in no shape to read full sentences composed of Japanese characters. He pointed me toward the many books that line the walls in the tea/lunch room next to the labo (that is the shortened form of laboratory in Japanese, I think that name is really fun!). Two of them are small field guides in Japanese: a Field Guide for Bryophytes and a Yama-Kei Field Book entitled,しだ・こけ. Both of them are filled with great color pictures and the former has the species names written out in roman letters, which is quite helpful. There is also the Flora of Japan (1965) that covers the vascular plants of the country. This book is in english, but unfortunately there are no drawings and only a few black and white images. This book is quite large and definitely not for the field. I will probably start snagging pieces of plants while I am in the field and bringing them back to the labo to figure out what their names.

But the books that I am the most excited about are the
Illustrated Moss Flora of Japan. This is a five volume set that covers all of the ~900 mosses growing in Japan. It is written in English and has keys start at the genus level and end at the species with description of each taxon. There are line sketches for many of the species that show all of the little details that are needed to confirm an identification. This flora is published by the Hattori Botanical Laboratory and is available for purchase online.

Up to this point I have just been taking photos of the bryophytes without identifying them to species. For example I knew that this was a species of Leucobryum, but I had no idea whether they have the same species in Japan as those in the USA or if they have entirely different species. There are two species of Leucobryum in the US (L. glaucum and L. albidum). However in Japan they have six species, including one overlap with the US, L. glaucum. Unfortunately I just took a photo of this little patch and did not collect any, but now that I have the Japanese Moss Flora at my disposal I will be doing some collecting!

Photos of Bryophytes in Japan

I visited the Shimpukuji Temple in Okazaki, Japan this past weekend and took some photos of the bryophytes on the temple grounds. This temple was established in the late 6th century. A man on a pilgrimage devoted to Budda saw an incarnation of Budda emerge from the pond in front of him. It was deemed a miracle and word reached a member of the royalty responsible for Buddhism propagation. (They even had people in charge of the media spin back then.) Thus the Shimpukuji temple was built. The water from the sacred fountain is famous for its medicinal effects especially for persons with eye diseases.

This is the sacred fountain with a large number of liverworts and mosses in the splash zone around the water.

There are more photos below the fold. I just couldn't stop taking pictures of all the great bryophytes!

This entire hillside next to the path was covered in mosses!

Berry Go Round #6

The sixth edition of Berry Go Round has been posted here at Seeds Aside. Check out all of the planty-goodness that they have lined up for your reading enjoyment.

For more about blog carnivals and a link to the earlier editions of Berry Go Round, click here.

More Mossy Poetry

My favorite type of poem are those that rhyme. This one could use a little more rhyming for my taste, but I think that it is a good little poem all the same. If you know of any other moss poetry that I have yet to post on this blog or have written your own moss poem let me know. I would be happy to read it and post it up.

Dirty Little Moss
By Dan Paquette

Dirty little moss
on the cottonwood trunk,
my spray bottle
washes away the debris.

Your stem snuggles close
to your siblings, green
unbrushed curls
of sun-loving leaves.

Your generation lies
criss-crossed above

tired wet scaffolding
twisted remnants
of your first borne branches
and some great, great
uncles and aunts
in mucous, brown

intertwined stems, leaves??
limp banners
of whom
they once were??

One day, your skin
will be coal pudding
for some thermal bacteria

long after you and I

A Mossy Poem

There was a discussion on Bryonet last week about moss poetry. Several poems that I was not aware of were sent out. Enjoy!

From Twenty Lessons on British Mosses (1846)

by William Gardiner (1808-1852)
O! Let us love the silken moss
That clothes the time-worn wall
For great its Mighty Author is,
Although the plant be small.
The God who made the glorious sun
That shines so clear and bright,
And silver moon, and sparkling stars,
That gem the brow of night-
Did also give the sweet green moss
Its little form so fair;
And, though so tiny in all its parts,
Is not beneath His care.
When wandering in the fragrant wood,
Where pale primroses grow
To hear the tender ring-dove coo,
And happy small birds sing,
We tread a fresh and downy floor,
By soft green mosses made ;
And, when we rest by woodland stream,
Our couch with them is spread.
In valley deep, on mountain high-
The mosses still are there :
The dear delightful little things-
We meet them everywhere!
And when we mark them in our walks,
So beautiful, though small,
Our grateful hearts should glow with love
To Him who made them all.
(P.S. As I said in my earlier post I am out exploring Okazaki this weekend. Blogger has a new feature where you can schedule a post and it will be posted at a later time. I used this feature to send out this poetry for the weekend. )

Moss at the Kannon Nature Museum

We had a home stay with a Japanese family this past weekend. The family lived in the city of Yokosuka, south of Tokyo. Since the other graduate student and I staying with the same family were both biologists they took us to a local park near their home and to a nature museum.

The park was very nice. We saw a variety of animals: koi, turtles, dragonflies, white-eyed warbler, and a variety of other cool insects. My favorite were these shiny little insects!

There were a number of mosses hiding under bushes and between blades of grass. However as we were walking along my host mother translated one of the signs on the side of the path and it read dangerous snake. I am not a fan of snakes, especially the dangerous kind. Hence there is no picture of the mosses from the park, because after reading that sign I stopped poking around in the brush and stuck to the path.

After visiting the park we were off to the Kannon Nature Museum it sit directly on the coast of Tokyo Bay. The day we visited it was quite foggy over the bay obscuring our view. The museum itself was fantastic and much more than I expected. They had vases full of a large number of native plants that were collected from the area and on display. Of course being near the ocean there were all manner of pickled sea creatures, including fish, mollusks, urchins and octopus.

Unfortunately the most poorly curated display was that of the mosses and ferns. There was a small shelf, pictured here that had about six different types of ferns. Most of them were labeled with their Japanese names and some with their scientific names. However the poor lonely mosses on the bottom shelf did not have any labels at all. Poor things. The two containers on the end are filled with Polytrichum and the middle container has some Dicranum and Polytrichum. I know that I saw more types of mosses in the area than just these two. What happened? No love for the mosses?

I do not have a key or guide to the mosses of Japan, so I am not sure what species in particular they had on display. Many species of moss have world wide distributions, so these could be the same species as those we have in Connecticut.

My plan is to talk to the researchers here in Dr. Hasebe's Lab to find out if they know of an English guide to the mosses. I learned a little Japanese before coming, but I do not think that it is nearly enough to use a field guide.

I am off to explore the town of Okazaki this weekend. As of now my main transportation is on foot, but I have a map and I might give the bus system a try. I really wish that I brought my GPS unit or a compass just in case I get lost. Wish me luck!

My First Japanese Bryophyte

Well here I am half way around the world and 13 hours ahead of EST in Connecticut. The flight was incredibly long but the travel went smoothly overall. We are currently staying at the Graduate University of SOKENDAI having a week of orientation where we are taking Japanese language classes and learning about Japanese culture.

I decided to poke around the bushes outside of the university buildings to see if I could find any bryophytes. What I found were some super tiny hornworts with sporophytes. The cluster here is about the size of my fingernail. There are three main groups of plants that are typically called bryophytes: mosses, liverworts and hornworts.

Hornworts have a flat thallus that grows pressed close to the ground. They do not have stems and leaves as mosses do. Many of the features that set hornworts apart from other bryophytes relate to the sporophytes. They have long, skinny sporophytes that produce spores inside for the entire length. They do not have a swollen capsule as in mosses and liverworts. Pictured here are some very young sporophytes peeking out from the wavy edged hornwort.

The spores are released from these structures by a very interesting mechanism. The oldest and most mature spores are located at the tip of the sporophytes. When they are ready to be released there are 1 to 2 lines that open from the top downward like zippers releasing the spores. The sporophyte continues to grow from the bottom making more and more spores that are released as the opening moves toward the bottom.

This phenomenon is where the common name hornworts comes from. After the spores have been released the sporophyte tip which has been divided in half by the lines of dehiscence (aka. zippers) dries and curls. They look like two horns, thus the name Hornwort. These photos do not show this neat phenomenon since the sporophytes are really young. Hornworts occur around the world and we have them in Connecticut too.

Keep your eyes peeled for these curly tipped sporophytes which tell you that you have found a hornwort. It is a good feature to know about when searching for them.

Off to Study Mosses in Japan

Well this is my last day in Connecticut before heading off to Japan tomorrow. My laundry is done, the lab is tidy, and some of my fabulous fellow graduate students will be taking care of my mosses here in Connecticut while I am gone. I still have a full day ahead of me with packing and cleaning my apartment, but the anxiety about the trip is starting to fade away and I am finally getting excited about the whole adventure.

One of the items that is quite important when meeting people professionally in Japan are business cards. Thy are called meishi in Japan. There is a formal method of meishi exchange that includes bowing. Here is a link to the entire story regarding meishi exchange. Hopefully I will not completely botch the exchange process and I can avoid embarassment.

Of course the business cards that I ordered got tied up in the printing and shipping process and will not arrive before I leave. Hopefully I will be able to have them sent to me so that I can use them while I am there.

I have posted versions of my business card in english and the one the my Japanese research advisor translated into english. The translation is pretty rough. Looking up Japanese characters is not easy. It says Connecticut University Ecology and Evolutionary Biology on the first line. Doctoral University student on the second line. The third line is my name. The prevaling comment that I have gotten is that it is pretty fun that my name in Japanese has two smiley faces. : ) The following lines are my contact information at the National Institute for Basic Biology.

On the at home front, the moss walk this past Saturday went well. We had six participants who came on the walk. We didn't walk very far, which is usually the case when looking at mosses, but everyone had a good time. Since everyone on the walk was new to mosses I introduced several of the common genera that can be found in Connecticut.

Atrichum Hypnum Leucobryum Polytrichum Plagiomnium Sphagnum

Well that is all for now and I will next be posting from Japan. Wish me luck.