Field of Science

Berry Go Round #13

The latest edition of the plant carnival Berry Go Round has been posted at Watching the World Wake Up. It is a great gathering of plant related posts to get you through the snowy winter.

Happy Anniversary Berry Go Round!

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

Winter Wonderland

The cold and blustery winter is upon us. Most of the green plants have dropped their leaves or died back for the winter. The mosses may be the only bit of green that you spot when trudging through the snow on a crisp winter day. Mosses do not die back over winter, instead they hibernate. They go into a state of suspended animation where they can survive freezing temperatures. Exposed to the wind or buried beneath the snow they are quite the winter troopers. Mosses are even able to grow on Antarctica!

How are they able to tolerate freezing temperatures? Well, scientists have been trying to figure this out and they have discovered some of the strategies that the mosses are using.

1) Nagao, M., K. Oku, A. Minami, K. Mizuno, M. Sakurai, K. Arakawa, S. Fujikawa, D. Takezawa. 2006. Accumulation of theanderose in association with development of freezing tolerance in the moss Physcomitrella patens. Phytochemistry 67: 702–709.
In this research article they determined that the mosses load up their cells with a variety of sugars (i.e. sucrose, theanderose) that protect against damage caused by ice crystals. They have to build up these sugars in their cells over time to acquire this freezing tolerance. They can't just jump from the warmth of indoors into the icy cold. If I were to take my mosses from the lab and put them outside they would not survive.

2) Close, T. J. 1996. Dehydrins: Emergence of a biochemical role of a family of plant dehydration proteins. Physiologia Plantarum 97: 795-803.
Dehydrins are a special type of protein that helps the moss cells survive freezing and dehydration, hence the name. These proteins interact with the plasma membrane and other proteins inside the cells. They help to protect them from damage. No matter the amount of protection moss cells do become damaged during freezing, but as long as the damage is not too severe the cells can repair themselves during the spring thaw.

Overall I think that it is a really neat system and I am sure that there is more for the scientists to figure out about freezing tolerance in mosses.

Next time you are out you should shift some snow to check out the mosses beneath, but be sure that you replace the snow that you have moved. The snow can act as insulation keeping the mosses a little warmer and protecting them from the wind. One time when I did dig up a patch and forgot to cover it back up the plants were dead when I returned in the spring. I will not make that mistake again.

The photo to the right is from my annual New Year's Day hike at the James L. Goodwin State Forrest. The only habitat shot that I took was this one of the snowy scenery. We did see a few mosses peaking out of the snow, but it was way too cold for me to take off my gloves to operate my camera more than once. Next time I am out I will definitely take some photos of mosses in the snow. Enjoy the weather!

Bryophytes on Facebook

So I had avoided the Facebook world until I was preparing for my Japan trip this past spring. The other students going on the trip decided to start a group (on Facebook) so that we could see where everyone would be stationed and coordinate trips together. Thus, I decided to bite the bullet and join the Facebook world.

To tell you the truth I think that the whole social networking think can be an enormous time drain. I try to participate minimally, but I do enjoy keeping up with some of my friends using this medium. Anyway there is a bryological point to this post. I decided to see if there were any bryophyte centered groups on Facebook. Perhaps I could use it to connect to other people who like mosses. So I entered 'moss' into the group search engine and boy I should have known better. Kate Moss, Randy name it they have a group on Facebook about it. (The same is true for searching for 'moss' on Google, but you probably already figured that out.) So I tried searching for 'moss plants', which is usually my go to. Still no good. But lo and behold searching for 'bryophytes' yielded some better results.

Some of the names of the groups are pretty fun. For example, "A Rolling Aggregate of Minerals Gathers No Bryophytes: Biologists Unite!" and "Bryophytes! will someday rule the world", whose mission statement is pretty tongue and cheek, as you might imagine. I decided to join the group "I heart (symbol) mosses". It seemed to be my speed and may be another way to put me into contact with others who are in 'love' with moss. Maybe Facebook has some redeeming qualities after all, we shall see.

(Stay tuned for a more science-centered post about mosses and winter. It is in the works.)

Moss Stickers

I was cleaning out my office drawers and came across a mossy item that I had not seen in months. (My office drawers tend to become a disaster over the course of the semester.) It was a sticker book made from my moss photos, many of which have been used on this blog. The company that I used is at and is based out of the UK. I had heard about them from somewhere and really liked the idea of making a sticker book. The books come with 16 perforated pages and you can upload a large number of images. I think that I could have had every sticker in the book of a different photo. Instead I picked a set of 12 that I liked, because I knew I would be giving them away. I passed out sheets of these stickers to my labmates and many of them ended up on the fronts of their laboratory notebooks. It wasn't exactly where I had imagined them sticking, but they seem to have enjoyed them. I even have a couple of sheets left! Now I just have to decide where to stick them...

The Stickers shown in the photo from upper left to right: Polytrichum gametophyte stems with fall leaves, Polytrichum stems up close, and Funaria hygrometica. Second Row: Leucobryum mixed with Dicranum, Leucobryum tuft, and Leucobryum upclose. Lower sheet, top row: Anacamptodon capsule, Tetraphis gemmae cups, and Sphagnum. And finally Sphagnum leaf cross section, Tetraphis peristome teeth at the top of the capsule, and Tetraphis gemmae.

Moss Graffiti

A fellow grad student forwarded along this link the website of Anna Garforth, an artists who is working with moss. The mosses are attaching it to the to the sides of buildings and cement walls to spell out words and phrases. Sort of Bio-Graffiti with mosses. Most of her projects listed under Design are of this type. You might be wondering how they attach the mosses to the walls. On one of the websites they say that "completely biodegradable ingredients" are used. I am a little skeptical about this as I did not see a posting of the recipe anywhere. Maybe there are secret ingredients that would open up their method to be used by others? I really hope that the ingredients do not include super glue and their statement about it being biodegradable is accurate. (Sorry but scientists tend to be skeptical until they see methods made public and reproducible results.)

Skepticism aside, I decided to look around to see if anyone else had similar ideas to use moss as urban art. Here are some of the websites that I found.
This one features the artist Edina Tokodi and her use of mosses in urban settings. Once again I am not sure how she attaches it? Another question would be where do they get the moss that they are using? Are they growing it themselves, getting it from a landscaper, or collecting from the wild? That was another item that I did not see addressed.

Another one is by Ladybird with
step by step instructions are featured on this DIY website. She gets huge points for sharing all the details regarding her moss growing methods on the web! I think that her skull and cross bones is pretty cool design. The moss itself does not look super green or too pretty. But I think that it shows realistic results of her moss growing recipe. It might be hit or miss on how well the mosses grow depending on the species used or the growing conditions.

Overall I think that it is a pretty neat idea. It is sure to put mosses on people's radar where they otherwise may be unaware of it, especially in urban locations.

P.S. If you locate any of the information that I have questions about please let me know through the comments. The world wide web is a big place and I might have just missed the information.