Field of Science

Mosses with Moving Teeth

We had a couple classes in the Evolution of Green Plants laboratory that I am teaching which focused on mosses. During lab we looked at some mosses that have arthrodontous peristome teeth. (arthro- meaning joint & -dontous referring to teeth) The joints and thickenings of the cell walls enable the teeth in many mosses to move in response to changes in humidity. In the species shown here, the teeth are closed when wet and open when dry. This allows the spores to be dispersed from the capsule when the conditions are optimal for them to fly on the wind to distant locations.

In this moss, we added water to the peristome. Then with the tip of a paper towel we removed the water and watched the magic happen. This specimen is under a dissecting scope,
hence the funny circular view, and I used the video function on my digital camera to record it. I cannot recall the species name of this moss. I am pretty sure it is either in the genus Ulota or Orthotrichum, both in the Orthotrichaceae.

Thanks to Dr. Goffinet for bringing in this moss and helping to make this video.

Earth Day Moss Workshop

An announcement came out over BryoNet yesterday about a moss workshop that will be held on 19 April 20008 in Brevard, NC. It looks to be great fun and North Carolina should be having spring in full force this time of year!

More information about this workshop can be found at or look below the fold for additional details.

DATE: EARTH DAY April 19, 2008

TOPIC: Go Green with Moss Workshop – Brevard, NC

CONTACT: “Mossin' Annie”

Annie Martin


Eco-friendly Workshop: GO GREEN with MOSS!
An Unique Opportunity to Learn About WNC's Indigenous Bryophytes (Mosses)

Brevard, NC: GO GREEN with MOSS Workshop! Celebrate Earth Day by finding out about WNC's bryophytes, our mountain mosses, at this one-of-a-kind moss workshop. Learn how to feature MOSS in your landscape, your year-round GREEN solution! An unique opportunity, this workshop is offered for the first time to the general public on Saturday afternoon, April 19, 2008 from 1-4 pm. Held on a 300-acre mountain retreat on Rich Mountain near Brevard, NC, the Moss Workshop will focus on the marvels of these miniature non-vascular plants. Topics will include: Advantages and Joys of Moss Gardening, Overview of Mosses, Types of Bryophytes, Basic Identification, Moss instead of Mulch, Moss Lawns and FULL-CYCLE GREEN RESCUE!

“Hands-on” opportunity to get a “closer look” at bryophytes, make your own moss dish garden, and enjoy a guided “mossin'” adventure in the woods! Registration Fee: $75 per person. Group rates available. Moss workshop sponsored by Mountain Moss Enterprises. For registration info/directions, contact: Mossin' Annie, 828.577.1321,

Songs Mentioning Moss

I posted previously on several moss poems. After that I was on the lookout for a song about moss. Initially I did some searching but did not come up with anything too inspiring. Then out of my own music collection I heard a song mention moss. I was listening to some music yesterday rocking out in the lab while planning some experiments. Contrary to popular belief science is not always done in an intense and serious silence. The song was Ignite by Northern State on their album All City. Here is an outtake from the song; though without the music it is a little lacking.
I'm gettin' dizzy and the sky is floatin' further away
I put the beat on repeat I got so much to say
And you're waiting you're not breathing holdin' your breath
Thinkin' how you gonna live when you're surrounded by death
We might be hiding in caves with all seven sleepers
Hesta Prynn is playing chess with all the grim reapers
And the moss is the carpet where I lay my head
While your pillows of feathers turn to blankets of lead in your bed
Then I checked through the rest of my music collection to see if I had any other tunes that mentioned moss. Out of my collection of some 2000+ songs, only 3 of them mention moss. The other two songs are 20 Years of Snow from Begin to Hope by Regina Specktor and Trouble from Come on Now Social by the Indigo Girls. (Excerpts from these two songs are below the fold.) So what can we conclude from this highly unscientific mossy survey.

1) People who study moss do not necessarily listen to much music about moss, though I will have to survey some of my moss colleagues for more than one data point.
Moss does not seem to be a great muse for musical inspiration. However my music collection may not be representative of all the possible songs with mossy leanings. Do you have any songs in your music collection that mention moss? If so what are they?

From 20 Years of Snow by Regina Specktor
She says I'd prefer the moss
I'd prefer the mouth
A baby of the swamps
A baby of the south
I'm twenty years of clean
And I never truly hated anyone or anything
Twenty years of clean
Twenty years of clean

From Trouble by the Indigo Girls
Trouble came around here
Here in the South we fix something to eat
Steam risin' up off the greenery and we welcome the strangers we meet
Alien sick growing in these walls
Like moss in a crack that time made
I brush a guy in the airport whistling it's a small world after all
And the prices are higher but the kids still selling lemonade

Miniature Mosses Workshop

I led a workshop today at the Connecticut Outdoor & Environmental Education Association's (COEEA) annual conference. This year it was held at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. The weather was good for the mosses but not so much for us humans. It was a cloudy day with a cold drizzling rain. But we braved the weather to hang out with our little photosynthetic pals. The workshop was an hour long so I talked fast, but we only went over how to recognize five moss species. I did have time to expound on other cool aspects of moss biology, such as dessication tolerance and how mosses both breathe and drink through their "skin" (aka. epidermis).

An unexpected note is that hand lenses that I brought were quite the hit. They are 10X plastic hand lenses that I ordered from the online supply store Science Stuff. (Click here for a link to their webpage.) Each plastic lens has a magnification of 5X and they sell 1, 2, and 3 lens versions with total magnifications of 5X, 10X and 15X respectively. I chose the 10X lenses because I was worried that there would only be a small area in focus with the higher magnification ones and that looking through 3 layers of plastic might cause a distorted view at the edges. (Check out my earlier post on glass hand lenses.)

Overall I think that the workshop was a success. I had a lot of fun and I think that the workshop participants had a good time too. If any of the participants have any comments or critiques for the workshop, feel free to add a note using the comments section on this blog or drop me an email. It would be great to hear feedback from all of you. Happy Mossing!

The Common Names of Atrichum

Mosses in the genus Atrichum have a couple of common names, as many plants do. One name is the smoothcap moss. As I mentioned in last week's post, this name describes the lack of hairs on the calyptra of Atrichum, which is contrast to the hairy calyptra of Polytrichum (the hairy capped moss).

The other common name for Atrichum mosses is the catherinea moss. Originally the genus name for this moss was Catherinea. This name was given to these mosses in honor of Catherine II, who was the Empress of Russia from 1762 to 1796. Historically botanists named plants in honor of their wealthy patrons who funded their research. This genus was named by the German botanist Jakob Friedrich Ehrhart. He was a student of Linnaeus, the famous scientist who came up with the system of binomial nomenclature (Genus species).