Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Mossy creek bank
Three unique terms are:  moss, liverwort, hornwort.  The bryophytes are a primitive group of plants that are small in size, but large in greenness and beauty.  All three live in moist areas and lack vascular systems or tubes to carry fluids.  Thus they stay little and close to their water.

I learned something about identifying mosses on a fieldtrip at the 2011 Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It seemed an overwhelming task to learn a few of the 450 moss species found there.  Mostly I enjoyed wandering around with the bryologists looking at some of their characteristics with my 10X hand lens.  One interesting fact I noted involved the huge, rotting logs covered with moss called "nursery logs".  The mossy carpet on the log has the ecological value of trapping moisture and holding the log together as it decomposes.  The log becomes a fertile substrate for germinating maple and hemlock trees and gets the name "nursery log".  Here was another great example of nature's economy.

I have never seen a hornwort in Louisiana, so I asked my botanist friend Dennis Bell if they grew here.  "Yes," he said, "being so small, they are easily overlooked."  He's found them on wet ground in late March or early April next to his church. 

In the winter green blankets of moss catch my eye and stir my imagination.  Mounds of mossy earth glow in the bare winter woods along the creeks.  Down in the swamp the liverworts get thick and fleshy after a rain giving the tree branches a rich, green luster.  I find moss in the most unexpected places like in the cracks of a sidewalk or beside an asphalt road.  I will keep my hand lens with me and let you know when I get to see a hornwort.

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