by Rick Forrester
Normal folks might think this is some type of tree seedling – maybe a baby pine or yew.
However, if you are a bryologist, you know exactly what this plant is. For those of you not fortunate enough to be married to a bryologist as I am, bryology is the study of some of the smallest plants in nature – mosses and liverworts. They are ancient, spore producing, non-flowering plants related to ferns. Because they also lack the vascular tissue that transports water in the “higher” plants, they are small and low-growing, often preferring damp moist habitats. But because they are so structurally simple, without roots, stems or true leaves, they can utilize many habitats - even rocks and tree branches that other plants cannot take advantage of.
If you want to dive into the genetics of this, the leafy green plants that we are most familiar with, from dandelions to corn plants to oak trees, are “diploid” entities like us with “paired chromosomes” – this gives us two copies of each of our genes. Mosses, on the other hand, are haploid organisms, with only one set of chromosomes.
There are literally tens of thousands of species of mosses underfoot – who knew! – with a nearly infinite variety of growth forms. So next time you are walking down the trail, keep an eye out low to the ground . . . You may even catch site of this beauty whose common name is Tree Moss (scientifically, Climacium dendroides).
Now, what’s a “liverwort”????? Stay tuned . . . .