Reveling in Moss

It was a ‘misty-moisty morning,’ a perfect day to stroll down into the woods and look for turtles.

But as it turned out, I didn’t spot a single one in the wet woods that morning.

The mosses, however, more than made up for any absence of reptiles.  After the night’s rain, the brilliant green of the mosses was startling.  “Look at me!” the plump green mounds almost shouted.   Shaped into necklaces around the base of tree trunks and forming fat green lines above  long-decomposed logs, these luscious green patches were as bright emerald as any mosses I’d ever seen.

Emerald.  I pondered the word.  Used to describe the most brilliant of greens, emerald is also a gemstone.  But no stone, even an emerald, I thought, could match the green of verdant mosses after a rain, when they are bursting with water and clorophyl.  Instead of using  a stone’s name to describe the greenest green, maybe ‘mossy’ would be a more apt term.  But then, I guess ‘mossy’ connotes a texture more than a color.  Oh well.

While all the mosses I looked at that damp morning were a mossy–or brilliant–green,  many patches contained two or three different kinds of moss, all blended seamlessly together.

Once back at the house, I decided to pick up a lovely little book about mosses, Gathering Moss:  A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  As I browsed through its pages and reread passages I had underlined several years ago, I appreciated once again how beautifully the author’s scientific knowledge combines with her sense of wonder at the amazing little plants.

I am reminded that mosses are the most primitive of land plants.  They lack flowers, fruits, roots, and seeds.  Each of the more than 22,000 moss species in the world “is a variation on a theme, a unique creation designed for success in tiny niches in virtually every ecosystem.”    The first plants to live on land, mosses have been around for 350 million years.

I especially love this passage from Kimmerer’s book:

“Like a jealous lover, the moss has ways to heighten the attachments of water to itself and invites it to linger, just a little longer.  Every element of a moss is designed for its affinity for water.  From the shape of the moss clump to the spacing of leaves along a branch, down to the microscopic surface of the smallest leaf; all have been shaped by the evolutionary imperative to hold water.  Moss plants almost never occur singly, but in colonies packed as dense as an August cornfield.  The nearness of others with shoots and leaves intertwined creates a porous network of leaf and space which holds water like a sponge.  The more tightly packed the shoots, the greater the water-holding capacity.  A dense turf of a drought-tolerant moss may exceed 300 stems per square inch.  Separated from the rest of a clump, an individual moss shoot dries immediately.”–April Moore

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3 Responses to “Reveling in Moss”

  1. Diane Artz Furlong Says:

    It doesn’t surprise me that mossinesses would delight you as much as they delight me. The woods above Cedar Creek abound with colonies like yours. They are like fantastical little worlds. I love running my hand over them, feeling their sponginess. I have been harvesting small colonies I find around the yard and putting them in my shade garden. I make sure the earth is wet where I place them then I press them firmly into the mud. I keep them watered regularly too. I hope they form a dense mat.

  2. Tanya Says:

    Thanks for reminding me to be grateful to those beautiful little water huggers.

  3. Judy Says:

    April, your writing delights this desert-dweller. I love your image of necklaces encircling the trees. I always think of mosses as fairy carpets, and yes, they do not like being uprooted and relocated, and they usually dry out. I guess the moss magic lies in their moist, deep, density.

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