Photo Copyright Lauretta Jones

Moss is one of the most beautiful of green plants. Although mosses seem very different from garden flowers, they are all chlorophyl-containing organisms and make their own food. Perhaps because moss is tiny and mingles with mushrooms, we may think they are related. But the non-green, non-food-producing mushrooms are only distant cousins of moss. Moss is as different from mushrooms – which are the above-ground fruiting parts of fungi – as it is from mammals!

Moss is also different from lichens, which I wrote about in November. A lichen is not a single organism at all, but rather a cooperative venture between a fungus and an alga. When they combine, they form something that looks and acts very different from either organism on its own. (Perhaps you know some couples like that?)

Although mosses are green plants, they are different from trees and flowers in some important ways. They do not have a water circulatory system and hence you will most readily find them in damp environments. And although they are more prolific during wet weather, some species can survive being dried out, seemingly springing to life again when rehydrated.

Mosses do not produce flowers, which also means no seeds or cones. But in this photograph of moss at Angle Fly Preserve, note the little red-brown cups sitting atop hair-thin stalks. These cups hold the spores that – like ferns – mosses release into the air to reproduce.

Historically, mosses had many utilitarian uses, including as diapers and as dressings for wounds. But today we have much better alternatives, and should allow the slow-growing mosses to sit in peace, delighting our eyes and bare toes.

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