Mosses and Liverworts–wall to wall carpet

Bracken fern and moss

Mosses and Liverworts are everpresent in my garden.  Now and until the trees and the understory clothe themselves in fresh leaves, the interesting textures of moss are apparent.  I lost an hour or two wandering the bare brambles, photographing the denizens of moist, shady nooks where they thrive.  Rocks, tree trunks, stumps and soil are coated in the soft textures that require regular precipitation.  A month from now the mosses will be lost to the ebulence of elderberry, ninebark and the onslaught of blackberries.

Moss with spore capsule on elongated seta

I don’t know much about the bryophytes, the grouping that contains the mosses, liverworts and hornworts.  What I do know is that since they do not have the well-developed water-conducting systems of vascular plants, they grow where water is plentiful; some even have the capacity to completely dry out and remain dormant until rain returns. Naturally Western Washington hosts  many bryophytes.

I am attempting to get better at telling the mosses from the liverworts.  Both produce spores on reproductive structures called sporophytes–consisting of a stalk and a spore capsule.  Apparently, the elongated stalk (seta) is more noticible on mosses, and their capsules open at the tip to release the spores.  Liverwort capsules split into fours to release spores and tend toward shorter setae.  That said, I’m using my trusty Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and MacKinnon to guestimate species in my garden.

I can tell that I have several species of Haircap mosses, genus Polytrichum growing in the moist, shady areas of my gravel driveway and I believe its the Oregon Beaked Moss (Kindbergia oregana) carpeting many a shady branch in the understory, appearing almost as topiary tree forms.  All the others will require more careful investigation on my part.  For now, I am just admiring their varied forms and quiet beauty.  And I do love how they provide a moist substrait conducive to the germination of other plants–ferns, such as licorice fern, but also garden cultivars.  I noticed primrose volunteers coming up in a thick layer of two colors of moss. 

© Colleen Miko, 2011

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About Colleen Miko

Colleen Miko is a certified professional horticulturist with 20 years experience in landscape design who has designed award winning gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show as well as HGTV’s “Landscaper’s Challenge”. Colleen is freelance garden writer and speaker.
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