Updated: Jan 9
Whilst moss can be an abundant feature of wooded areas, it can so easily get overlooked as simply the green stuff that grows on rocks and the base of trees, yet this ancient micro plant is so much more!
Moss are bryophytes that thrive in almost every ecosystem on earth. They have no flowers, seeds, or roots and commonly grow in dark, damp places, loving the north face of trees and crevices that can be found on bark. Basically, they love anywhere where enough water can be found to thrive and can be found on the branch of an oak or living on the back of a beetle!
They produce a natural antibiotic, able to fight most plant diseases. So much so in fact, that it has been said that forests are unable to survive without them!
A few years ago I was on a solo trip in north Wales and I found myself really slowing down and taking in the beauty of what was around me. One day, I knelt down to look closely at the rich, deep green mosses, something that I hadn't really done before. On close inspection, they were thick and damp, reminding me of mini forests. It was like looking at an a whole new world.
They provide immense benefit to the environment and are effective carbon sequesters with Sphagnum, the genus that comprise of over 300 species being the most efficient at doing this. With humans emitting increasing amounts of CO2, this is much needed.
Mosses, along with other plants and lichens* are very important for biodiversity. Their micro environment is a haven for organisms that are too small for us to see, showing us that you don't need to be big to be significant.
Photos of lichen and moss, Horsenden Hill, NW London.
They are excellent indicators of air pollution due to the fact that they get most of their nutrients from the air and rain and along with lichen are amongst the most sensitive plants to nitrogen pollution.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, believes that moss can teach us a great deal about resilience:
"rather than demanding a lot from the world, they are very creative in using what they have rather than reaching for what they don't have...when there are constraints or limits...they draw inwards and wait it out until a better time"
With lockdown impacting so many of us, these are words we can learn from right now!
*Lichens - are not plants but rather a fungus living in a symbiotic relationship with alga or cyanobacterium.
All photos my own, taken at Horsenden Hill