Field of Science

Bryophytes Outdoors

Hanging out with botanists in the field is a great way to learn more about plants and their identification. I recently spent a few days with some awesome botanists in Tennessee at the annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in the Smoky Mountains National Park. 

We looked at wildflowers, trees, shrubs, ferns, and of course mosses. There are also walks for the animal-lovers focusing on salamanders, wild hogs, birds, and bears. A funny anecdote is that the bear walks hardly ever see bears, though you will learn a lot about them on the walk. You are more likely to see a bear driving to a walk or on a walk about wildflowers. That is one of the reasons I like studying plants. They don't move on the landscape nearly as fast.  

Next year's Pilgrimage will be held April 11-15, 2017. But if you can't wait until next year to get out into the field to learn some mosses there are courses and forays happening this summer and fall in Maine, Ohio, and Quebec.

For more information on these and other outdoor moss events check out this updated list. If you know of any others I should add to the list drop a message in the comments and I will add it on. 

Identifying Mosses with Only a Photo

A friend of a friend sent me these lovely photos of mosses from Bath, England to identify. 

So, where do we start? Well, I usually start with the features that look the most distinctive and sift through my mental card catalog of mosses to see which ones these fit. Sporophytes can be helpful for determining the higher classification for the moss, such as the order or family. 

1) The peristome teeth look to be made of many narrow filaments that are twisted at the apex, which = Pottiaceae in my mind.

Now we get to the more difficult part of moss identification. Trying to get lower than family or genus from just a couple photographs. What else can we see.

2) The leaves are topped by long, white awns.
3) Some of the leaves are folded inward. 
4) It is growing on rock or concrete. 

My tendency is to go with a common species that doesn't contradict the observations we can make from the photos. So my initial thought for this one is Syntrichia ruralis, but that is a species I know from North America and we know this photo was taken in England. 

So, does Syntrichia ruralis grow in England or do they have different Syntrichia species we should consider?

They have 13 species/subspecies of Syntrichia listed.
{With additional clicking there are actually only links to pages for 7 species/subspecies.}

They have two subspecies of Syntrichia, but both of them say that capsules on this species are rare. And this specimen has a lot of capsules. So I'll flip through some of the species and see which ones match. They also have great maps in the corner so I pulled up the location of Bath to see if that would help narrow the search.  

There are a few that look close, but none that give me that gut feeling of yes we have a match. The awns in the descriptions/drawings seem too short compared to the photos. They look to be at least 1/2 the length of the leaf lamina in the photos. So let's take a step back. A lot of the Syntrichia species were formerly in the genus Tortula, which is also in the Pottiaceae. Let's take a look at some of the species in that genus. 

Most of the Tortula species have small awns or are lacking them, except for Tortula muralis. 
Check the description of this species out to see what you think compared to the photos.

Long awn - Common species growing on mortared walls - Distribution covers Bath 
Nothing from the description is in contradiction to what I can see from the photos. It also points out that Syntrichia species are often larger and the photos look smaller, more similar to the Tortula in size.  

I think we have a winner! Tortula muralis is my ID for this species based on the photos and the British Field Guide.

What do you think? Would you give it a different name?

Making New Friends

Rhodobryum ontariense (Kindb.) Paris
Photographer Blanka Shaw
If you are familiar with mosses from the eastern United States you may know the moss Rhodobryum. The rose moss, pictured on the right. It is a large, easily recognized, and charismatic moss that grows in forests. And I am in agreement with its name. It does look like a rose with many lush, green petals. 

So when I came across the moss below you could imagine that my initial reaction was that it looks like Rhodobryum, which is close but not correct. Rhodobryum does not live in California. It lives in the central and eastern US. It is Roellobryon. Rhodobryum, Roellobryon. You see where the confusion could arise. Not only in the name, but in the similarity of the plants.

Roellobryon roellii

One of the main features that distinguishes Roellobryon are the rugose leaves. This was a new term for me so I turned to my handy moss glossary and here is what it said about rugose. 
"rugose - (1) strongly wavy, wrinkled, or undulate crosswise (compare with undulate, somewhat wavy in one direction, corrugate, regularly or evenly wavy, folded, or wrinkled in one direction, striate, marked with lined or ridges length-wise, plicate, pleated, folded, or furrowed length-wise, and sulcate, strongly grooved, furrowed or folded lengthwise), (2) wrinkled in all dimensions." Malcolm & Malcolm 2006
Malcolm & Malcolm 2006
The photo that is included with the definition does a really good job of illustrating  the wrinkly nature of the leaves. Unfortunately the specimen that I was looking at was not very wrinkly at all when viewed under the compound microscope. The wrinkles that I did see looked to me just from the leaf being squashed under the cover slip. Not nearly as many wrinkles as shown here. But that happens. Variation across/among individuals. Biology is messy like that. Alternatively it may be that the rugose nature of the leaves is more visible on the dried samples, rather than wet ones under the microscope. 

I always enjoy making new species friends and this one was especially fun to meet. Keep an eye out for them when you are in California forests. They like to hang out on the humus underneath trees and shrubs. You never know when you might bump into Roellobryon. 

Roellobryon roellii