Moss is often unappreciated - especially by those trying to cultivate a lawn. I think moss should be appreciated as a beautiful, useful, and beneficial group of plants. Mosses are quite different from most of the plants that we are familiar with. Mosses are non-vascular plants; unlike vascular plants, they don't have tissues that transport water and nutrients throughout the plant. Trees, shrubs, perennials, and even ferns are vascular plants. As a result of not having this "nutrient transportation" system, non-vascular plants don't get very big. Mosses are also different because they use spores to reproduce - they don't have flowers. In this way, they are like ferns.
|Capsules on sporophyte - spores are inside|
This might be Atrichum angustatum
|Likely a species of Bryum|
As I thought about this topic, I looked around for examples of moss in my own yard and other places that I went. I was amazed at the many different ones that I found. At right is one that I find commonly growing in the cracks of asphalt on the shady side of the streets.
I took pictures of them and tried to identify them from the pictures; that was a tough job and I was not always successful just using pictures. One thing I learned is that they can look quite different if they are not "hydrated". They do hydrate very quickly, so just pour some water on them if you want them hydrated. Those two pictures were taken about 5 minutes apart.
This might be Bryoandersonia illecebra
Just as with any plant, there are a number of common names associated with moss and the names seem to pair up nicely with the appearance of the moss: Broom moss reflects it's windswept look, Fern moss looks like tiny ferns, British soldiers looks like red-capped fellows, Pin cushion looks, well, like a pin cushion! Here are some of the ones I found (and the names if I was able to identify them). Thanks to my friend Faye for helping me with some of the identifications.
|Fern moss, Thuidium delicatulum|
|Tree apron moss, Anomodon attenuatus (I think!)|
|Broom moss, Dicranum scoparium|
|British soldiers, Cladonia cristatella|
|Pincushion moss with snow|
in 2010, Leucobryum glaucum
|Polytrichum commune, hair cap moss|
When color and form is all you have to offer, combinations of different shades of green and textures becomes almost a work of art. I found that frequently a patch of moss can be a group of different ones:
One reason I like to have moss around is that it creates a superb environment for seeds to germinate. In some areas it can be an early colonizer, establishing a rich environment for a new group of plants to take hold.
The area in front of my house is a mini nursery for Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) seedlings. I have about 5 new seedlings each year in the moss. I carefully dig them out when they are big enough and pot them up.
|Sedum ternatum in moss|
So I encourage you to appreciate moss for it's many qualities - color in winter, texture among other plants, and an ability to nourish seedlings. Think about encouraging any moss that you find growing in your garden and introducing moss if you don't have any already. Look for it in shady areas in your yard - even in the grass. When I find moss in my grass, I make plans to phase out the grass, not the moss!
For another post about the marvelous attributes of moss, including a great picture of a moss "lawn", click on over to The Grumpy Gardener.