Field of Science

Mosses Featured at United States National Parks

I did a search recently because I was interested to see how many of our National Parks discuss or feature the mosses that live in the parks. Here are a few of the interesting pages that I found and my comments on them. (They are not arranged in any particular order.)

Mt Ranier National Park - Washington
In 1939 Dr. E. T. Bodenberg wrote a moss flora about this park. It has a really thorough introduction that covers everything from the moss life cycle to how particular features of the park affect the mosses growing there. A checklist of the mosses in the park and a key to their identification is also included. Also interesting to note is that samples of all of the species included in this flora have been collected and placed in the park's herbarium. A herbarium is a collection of dried plant samples associated with location information that acts as a natural history record of the plants from a particular area.

Denali National Park and Preserve - Alaska
This park has a very animated and detailed section about the mosses. They also include an informative list of reasons for bryophytes being so broadly distributed across the globe.

Arches National Park - Utah
This park has a really great page discussing desert mosses and their ability to survive long dry periods (aka. desiccation).

Cape Krusenstern National Monuemant - Alaska
Sphagnum sp. (peat moss) is mentioned as a major player in the tundra habitat that is dominant at this location.

Canyonlands National Park - Utah
This site pretty much reuses the same information and photo as those at Arches National Park. I think that it is all still applicable since the habitat in the two locations is probably very similar. However more bryophyte details specific to the park would have been appreciated.

Grand Teton National Park - Wyoming
This park has a really great page that highlights the mosses and liverworts and the role that they play in this park.

Shenandoah National Park - Virginia

This park quotes the number of bryophytes that they have growing at the park = 208 species of moss and 58 species of liverwort. They also list some references and website links for more bryophyte information. The websites look to have good information and are associated with major universities. I think that their liverwort book selection is good, while their moss recommendation is a 2 volume set that costs ~$300. I would recommend a library if you are interested in checking out this thorough work on mosses.
(Pet Peeve: Below the photo it describes the mosses as 'fruiting'. That term is commonly used but biologically incorrect. Bryophytes do not form flowers, seeds or fruits! But fruiting is an easier term to use than sporing, which is not a technical or even real term. It could just be said that they are reproducing.)

ParkWise - Educational Resources for Alaskan National Parks
Mosses are included as part of this exercise about successional plants.

Redwood National & State Parks - California

Bandelier National Monument - New Mexico
Both of these parks mention moss being used by birds as nesting material.

National Battlefield Park - Virginia
This park has a page with a nice photo that features the mosses and liverworts.

I hope that you enjoy these webpages about mosses and liverworts living at our National parks, preserves, and monuments. If you have any stories about the bryophytes at your local parks feel free to share them in the comments section.

New Bryophyte Guide

I think that there is really a void when it comes to bryophyte field guides for amateurs. I have sent emails to both the Peterson's Field Guide company and the Finder guides suggesting that a guide to the moss genera of North America is desperately needed. Unfortunately there was no reply from either company. I guess they don't think that there is a market for this type of guide. I think that there is, considering that I am asked about what field guide I would recommend quite often.

The first guide that I purchased was Conrad and Redfearn's "How to know the mosses and liverworts". This guide is ok, but the dichotomous key at the beginning is really long and painful. You have to really want to learn about mosses to pull the information that you desire out of this book. Also some of the characteristics they have you look for are microscopic and really cannot be seen with a 10X handlens.

An announcement came out on Bryonet a while back about a new bryophyte guide. It is entitled "A Trailside Guide to Mosses and Liverworts of the Cherokee National Forest" by Paul G. Davison with contributions from Mark J. Pistrang. If you have never visited the Cherokee National Forest, it is a fabulous place. I carried out some of my undergraduate research there and participated in the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory in the Smoky Mountains. Fortunately many of the genera in this area overlap with other eastern deciduous forest regions of the United States, and thus could be used outside of the region.

I have purchased a copy and I think that this book is great. There are multiple color photographs per genus. The text includes a description about the genus; notes on habitat, size, distinguishing characteristics and reproduction; the number of species in the genus that live in the Southern Appalachian Mountains; the distribution of the genus within Eastern North America. The book covers 52 genera and focuses on larger scale photographs. Thus a microscope is not needed, which is critical for making field identifications.

The specific species that are covered may not be found in your area, but I think that identifications of mosses and liverworts to genus are just fine. When I lead moss walks and teach people local plants we only talk about them in terms of the genus identification. Really to identify these plants to species you need a microscope. However there are a lot of genera to be learned with ~12,000 different moss species worldwide.

Salt-Shaker Spore Dispersal

Mosses in the Polytrichaceae spread their spores in a really neat way. Shown here are Atrichum sporophytes. Another member of the family that I have blogged about is Polytrichum, which also shares this dispersal mechanism.

Atrichum's manner of spores dispersal has been described as a salt shaker mechanism. And as you can see on the up-close shot below, it is a pretty good analogy. The mouth of the capsule is surrounded by a ring of short, immovable teeth that attach to a disc covering the opening to the capsule. The disc keeps rain from entering the capsule so that the spores do not start to grow before they have exited the capsule. When a breeze or a passing animal jostles the capsule the spores sift out from between the teeth. This mechanism also keeps the spores from coming out in a single mass, which would pretty much defeat the ability of these spores to spread on the wind.

If you are ever out in the woods and see some Artichum (or Polytrichum) sporophytes, give them a tap. You may be rewarded by a poof of spores emanating from the top of the capsule.

Fun Fact: Spores are so small and light that they can disperse very long distances. Researchers carried out a study (I am not sure of the reference off the top of my head, but I will check.) where they attached sticky microscope slides to the wings of a plane that flew high into the air. What do you know, they found moss spores all the way up in the the jet-stream. Pretty cool that they are able to travel that far up and then far away!

Growing Mosses

I have received a number of emails over the past couple of months with questions about gardening with mosses outdoors. Most of my personal moss growing experience focuses on the plants that I grow in the laboratory. I have little terrariums (culture containers) from Fisher Scientific that work great in the lab.

As for moss gardening outside here are a few resources to get you started.

- The British Bryological Society has a publication entitled "The Moss Grower's Handbook", that you can link to here. This book discusses both liverworts and mosses. It is a really nice read and goes into detail about specific growing conditions for particular species.

- Researchers at Glacier National Park have published an article about moss propagation for re-vegetation projects in the park. A link for the article and a pdf version can be found here. They illustrate a nice setup for growing mosses indoors to be planted outside after they are established.

- Schenk, G. 1997. Moss Gardening: including lichens, liverworts and other miniatures. Timber Press: Portland, Oregon.
A good reference book for landscaping/gardening with mosses that is filled with
nice color photos. It also covers growing specifics for particular species. My only critique of the book is that it could use a little more focus on issues of conservation.

- Cullina, William. 2008. Native Ferns, Moss, and Grasses: From Emerald Carpet to Amber Wave, Serene and Sensuous Plants for the Garden. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
This book has been on my wish-list for a while, but I have yet to purchase/read it. So I am not sure how helpful it is, but it does have an entire section on gardening with mosses.
If anyone has read this book and has an opinion on its utility for moss gardening, feel free to let me know.

Thanks for all the moss gardening questions and I hope that my answers were helpful. If you have any other suggestions for good moss gardening resources please drop a note in the comments section.

Berry Go Round #19

The latest edition of the plant carnival Berry Go Round has been posted at Quiche Moraine. Stop by to check out this month's plant posts from the blogosphere!

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