Tiny, Ubiquitous Treasures

Big fast-moving things grab our attention: eagles, wolves, and cougars. But we miss much by overlooking tiny, stationary creatures around us.

The creatures I write about are everywhere—all habitats on all seven continents. And they have been with us since life first emerged from the oceans onto land.

They can lie dormant for over 40 years waiting for one drop of water and they are capable of that most miraculous of life processes: photosynthesis.

They contain no vascular tissue, no roots or leaves or stems, but mosses merit careful attention. On a cool Sunday morning deep in the Whidbey Institute woods twenty of us followed bryologist, Miles Berkey, around for two hours peering at these tiny treasures.

From Berkey’s website: http://www.knowingmoss.com we get a definition of mosses: “The small little green fuzzy stuff that grows on logs, rocks, in our lawns and on our roofs. This term can accidentally incorporate such things as lichens, algae, and other small vascular plants. . . The taxonomic name for moss is bryophyte, which when used, carries a greater accuracy, pertaining to all non-vascular land plants.”

The trip was sponsored by our local Whidbey Camano Land Trust, http://www.wclt.org, a remarkable organization that helps those of us living on the island preserve unique habitats through donations and work parties. And on days like this, they offer us an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of where we live.

Without further words, I share my enthusiasm through photos. One photo in particular is noteworthy—the final one. It was taken by my friend Whidbey Institute fellow, Larry Daloz, a fine bryologist in his own right.

The equipment needed for moss-peering, a hand lens

Ann looking through a hand lens at moss growing on an alder tree, photo by WCLT 

This is what Ann is looking at—Moss fruiting bodies











A stair step moss—each level represents one year’s growth



An “upright” tree moss with its miniature crown











Larry Daloz photo: Awned Hair cap (Politrichum pilfirum). Red cups are “splash cups” that host the sperm-producing antheridia. When it rains, they are splashed out to fertilize female archegonia. In this case the water had frozen and was in the process of melting.”






12 replies
  1. Katharine
    Katharine says:

    Lovely to read and see the outcome of your explorations into moss, especially after our conversation about Braiding Sweetgrass. You are most definitely kin with Robin.

  2. Cynthia
    Cynthia says:

    I remember my awe the first time I saw British Soldier lichen in a forest – WHERE had that come from (as in, what planet?) and HOW did it get here, to this place on this forest floor? Is it possible that such a red can be natural, or is someone playing a trick on us by splashing carmine pigment on pale green lichens? I was rooted in place on my path, and I don’t think I breathed for quite a while. Mosses, lichens, fungi, all the tiny hidden things that keep our world alive – sometimes in spite of human actions. Thanks, Ann, for helping us remember to notice.

  3. Marjeta
    Marjeta says:

    I’ve always been drawn to mosses – their fresh colours, the softness, the (wild & edible) mushrooms the mosses so often lead me to … thanks for reminding us of their beauty.

  4. Larry Daloz
    Larry Daloz says:

    Thanks, Ann, for including the last one that was given to me some time ago up on Bowen Island near Vancouver. The moss itself is a version of the common “Hair-cap moss.” This one is named (by Bryologists) “Polytrichum pilfirum.” The red things are “splash cups” that disperse the sperms and ensure fertilization. I took the picture just after the ice in the cups had frozen.

  5. Jude Rathburn
    Jude Rathburn says:

    Dear Ann – Thanks for sharing this glimpse into the life giving nature of these natural treasures. I am reading Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees and was fascinated to learn about the partnership that exists between mosses and trees. I didn’t realize the purposes that both serve in maintaining the health of the forest. Makes me want to get one of those moss peering hand lenses for myself. Once again, your insightful writing inspires me to take a closer look. Thank you. Jude


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