Moss, Pacific Northwest
Moss is an ancient plant that first appeared around 400 million years ago. It was one of the first pioneering plants to grow on land, today it is still one of the first plants to return to disturbed earth. It is non vascular and has no means to carry water throughout the plant. Instead, it grows where it is moist. It needs little or no soil, so it can grow on a rock or on tree bark.
Over a very long time, it can help create new soil by slowly breaking down rock. In addition, it holds water just like a sponge, so it so it retains moister that can be used by other plants.
A bed of moss is a miniature ecosystem within the forest. A carpet of moss is a habitat for many other types of plants, as well as insects, amphibians and even small mammals like mice, shrews or voles.
Worldwide there are more than 10,000 species of moss. Mosses are the most common plant found in the Arctic and Antarctic regions and live most everywhere, except in very dry conditions. It has the ability to absorb vast amounts of water and as such, it can help prevent flooding and also acts as a filter straining out pollutants and heavy metals.
In Medieval Europe, it served as an antiseptic packing for wounds. Many cultures used it to keep babies’ bottoms dry and comfortable. First Peoples boiled moss and used it as a light green dye.
It helped keep settlers warm. They stuffed moss and mud in the spaces between the logs of their log cabins to keep out the wind and rain. First Peoples mixed moss with the deer’s brains and rubbed into the deer hide to make soft tanned leather for clothes and shoes.
It grows all over the pacific northwest and is very common on the coast. You can it find growing in deciduous woodlands, coniferous forests, wetlands and bogs.
This moss is usually found in shaded areas, on humus, rotten logs, at the base of trees, and sometimes on rocks.
This beautiful green moss is sometimes referred to as snake moss because of the shape of its leaves. I like the look of this moss, it is appealing to the eye.
When dry, the leaves are strongly rolled, and the leaves are slightly flexed and pressed closely to the stem, the whole shoot becomes sharply pointed and slightly covered with a bluish waxy, powdery bloom.
In the spring, the male plants are very eye catching, with bright, red leaves with small flowers at the ends of the shoots.
It is abundant in well drained habitats, especially in lowland areas. Favorite habitats include dry, grassy meadows, rock quarries and forest settings. It grows all over the Pacific Northwest coast.
Splash cups are in reference to the fact that these structures aid with the dispersal of the plant’s sperm cells by rain. The rain hits the cup and it sends the sperm cells out and away to form new growths.
The grayish white hair points that extend from the leaf tips are an important feature that distinguishes this species from the otherwise very similar Polytrichum Juniperum.
The moss in the photo was growing on rock, in a dry, coniferous forest setting, this is a common habitat for this type of moss.
So as this moss grows, it can slowly spread to form larger areas of thick moss. These moss accumulations can then provide habitat for a wide array of other plants. Individual moss plants consist of a main stem, with tightly arranged clusters of branch fascicles usually consisting of two or three spreading branches and two to four hanging branches.
The top of the plant has compact clusters of young branches. Along the stem are scattered leaves of various shapes that are called stem leaves and the shape varies according to species. As with many other mosses, the sphagnum moss species disperse spores through the wind. The tops of spore capsules are only about 1 cm above ground, and where wind is weak. As the spherical spore capsule dries, the operculum is forced off, followed by a cloud of spores.
Some of the world’s largest wetlands are sphagnum bogs, including the West Siberian Lowland, the Hudson Bay Lowland and the Mackenzie River Valley. These wetlands provide homes for many other types of plants and animals, they also store large amounts of carbon, which helps reduce global warming.