Sunday, March 10, 2013

a march day interlude

it's a beautiful sunny day today so i went for a little hike and during that hike i  was looking at the mosses on tree trunks as there's still so much snow on the ground.
i was thinking about ulota crispa and orthotrichum and how, when i first started mosses, i didn't know the difference between the two.
so i got out my camera and tried to get some shots from far away to close up of the two.
both were growing on the same big maple tree in my yard.

on a dry day, they are very easy to tell apart!
ulota crispa (like its name) has very 'crisped' and curly leaves when it's dry.
orthotrichum, on the other hand, has leaves that are straight and hug the stem.



so, on your next hike in the woods or on trees in your yard, see if you can find both species!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Mnium Group



Mniums used to be all lumped together in one genus - Mnium...
then in 1968 T.J. Koponen separated them into different groups:

1) Leaf margin entire (or obscurely toothed): Pseudobryum, Cyrtomnium & Rhizomnium

2) Leaf margins with single teeth: Plagiomnium

3) Leaf margins with double teeth: Mnium

Let's take a look at the first group:

Rhizomniums are fairly common in our area, especially R. punctatum and R. appalachianum
Both species have leaves that have a strong border of long cells with interior cells that are roundish.
R. punctatum is much smaller than R. appalachianum and i find it most often on rocks in wet areas whereas R. appalachianum grows in wet, swampy soil.

Rhizomnium punctatum

R. punctatum - note the smooth stems

Rhizomnium punctatum also has no tomentum or brownish hairs growing up the stem; only at the base.

a nice clump of Rhizomnium appalachianum

a scan of R. appalachianum. notice how the stem is covered with brown 'stuff' covering the stem.
Pseudobryum cinclidiodes is very much like Rhizomnium appalachianum. It is similar size-wise (a BIG moss) as well as liking the same type of wet places in the woods. It's leaves are a little more oblong, and if you look really closely it actually has really short, blunt teeth. Also, the leaf border is much weaker. If you look at it under the microscope, its cells are much more elongated and are in rows that angle away from the costa. The first time i saw this, i just couldn't figure it out...it was a mnium with bryum cells!

Pseudobryum cinclidiodes, compare the leaf shape to R. appalachianum
The last moss of this group is Cyrtomnium hymenophylloides...a rare moss of northern areas growing on limy ledges.  it's quite small, a beautiful blue green with round leaves basically in two rows.

Cyrtomnium hymenophylloides

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

More on Bryums & Mniums


Bryums & Mniums are very similar to each other at first glance...one usually notes that they both have capsules that are 'droopy' and they both have leaves that are bordered with long cells with shorter cells in the middle. Both are acrocarps with the capsules coming out of the tip of the plant and not on a side branch.

Let's start with the differences: although both groups have drooping capsules, Bryums have capsules with distinct 'necks':
Bryum caespiticium capsule
the neck is the top smaller 'bulge' before the stem.
Plagiomnium cuspidatum capsule (with calyptra)
note that although the capsule is drooping, there is no 'neck' to it
Bryum leaves tend to be more lanceolate, with no or few teeth and often end in a sharp needle tip:

Bryum caespiticium leaf

Mnium leaves tend to be large-ish, rounded, oblong, elliptical or obovate and often have obvious teeth (excepting the Rhizomnium group, which we'll talk about later).

Mnium spinulosum leaf

Plagiomnium ciliare leaf


Although both groups have leaves that are bordered with long cells, the border is usually quite strong in the Mniums and weaker in Bryums. The interior cells are also different, with Mnium cells being generally round or hexagonal and Bryums having long rectangular or diamond-shaped (rhomboidal) cells.

This drawing is a section from the edge of Plagiomnium ciliare,
note the rounded interior cells bordered by several rows of long cells
and the long, multicellular teeth

Interior  rhomboidal cells from Rhodobryum ontariense


So, now you know how to tell a Bryum from a Mnium...
next post we'll talk about the main groups of Mnium: Rhizomnium, Plagiomnium & Mnium


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mniums, Bryums & other wide-leaved ground mosses

There are a group of mosses that grow on the ground in especially shady places...they have wide leaves which have short to long teeth.
below is a field key to some of our common wide-leaved mosses:


and if you have a dissecting and/or compound microscope, here are some of the microscopic features:


over the next few posts, i'll go into a little more detail some of the species...such as the differences between Mniums & Bryums..and how the Mnium family is split into three distinct groups: Rhizomnium, Plagiomnium and Mnium.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Asexual Reproduction/Vegetative Propagation

 Mosses & Liverworts can reproduce by other means than spores. The asexual strategy is much faster and less costly than sexual reproduction and can enable bryos to colonize an area quickly which becomes very important in unstable environments.

There are three basic methods bryos use in vegetative propagation: Fragmentation, Gemmae & Propagules.

Fragmentation is exactly what it sounds like...parts of the plant, usually pieces of or whole leaves, break off and form new plants. Some species have taken this further and developed 'break zones' in their leaves which makes them extremely fragile and with the lightest touch, will break off. These fragments, on finding a suitable substrate, will then develop into protonema (that thread-like stage that looks like aglae) which then develops into the leafy shoots. Two examples are Dicranum viride and Haplohymenium triste:

Dicranum viride (note all the broken leaf tips)

One shoot of D. viride showing leaf tips

Dicranum viride leaf

Haplohymenium triste leaf showing 'break zone'
The production of Gemmae and Propagules take this a step further. Now the plant is putting slightly more energy into the production of structures specifically designed to grow either into protonema or directly into a leafy shoot. 
     
     Gemmae are structures, one to many celled, that are basically undifferentiated...they have no growing tip and will form protonema before growing into a plant. Many bryophytes have gemmae...the liverworts are especially fond of them. they can be one-celled round structures, 2-celled ovals, multicellular worm-like things, or stellate and they're often colored orange or red (especially in the Lophozias).

Blaisia pusilla, which grows in a very unstable habitat of open, moist soil..along ditches, etc, has two different gemmae. It produces scale-like gemmae on the ends of the thallus lobes shown below:

Blasia pusilla showing scale-like gemmae on thallus lobes

It also produces these crazy flask-like structures which house ovoid, several celled gemmae which are extruded through the mouth of the flask.

Blaisia pusilla flasks

Tortula papillosa, has multicellular globose gemmae which are found right on the leaf surface:

This beautiful photo by Michael Luth, shows the gemmae on Tortula papillosa's leaves


A view of the leaf showing the globular gemmae clustered along the costa
Propagules are even further developed than gemmae, have a growing tip, and often can resemble small buds or miniature leafy shoots. these propagules can grow directly into a plant without going through the protonema stage.

Dicranum flagellare showing upright propagules which are very easily dislodged


Dicranum flagellare propagule -
note how it looks like a tiny plant with reduced leaves.

Many times the existence of gemmae or brood bodies is very helpful in determining a species. For example, Pseudotaxiphyllum elegans and P. distichaceum look very similar in the field...but if you looked at their propagules, they are easily identified:

Pseudotaxiphyllum distichaceum propagule
Pseudotaxiphyllum elegans propagule
So, whether by fragmentation, gemmae or propagules, mosses & liverworts have found an ideal way to reproduce successfully without going through the costly and iffy process of sexual reproduction.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bazzania trilobata - a BIG leafy, liverwort

where Conocephalum is one of our largest thalloid liverworts, Bazzania is one of our largest leafy liverworts. this means that it has a stem and leaves and is much more 'moss-like' than the thalloid liverworts which are just thick or thin flattened plants without any differentiation into stems or leaves.  Bazzania is very common in moist forests especially cedar swamps. it loves old stumps, humic soil, but can also be found on rocks and tree bases. when it's happy, it can form large, loose repeatedly forked cushions.



the way the leaves curl down somewhat over the stem have always reminded me of a centipede-like creature. Each leaf ends in 3 triangular teeth.



Bazzania, like many liverworts has small underleaves...much smaller than the top leaves, and they generally have 4-5 teeth.


 It also produces long rootlike branches which arise from the base of the underleaves, which you can see in this wonderful photo by Michael Luth:


Some say that it has the smell of sandalwood, but i haven't noticed that myself...perhaps i'll check next time i'm hiking around the park trails.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A BIG Liverwort

i haven't talked too much about liverworts, but they're no less deserving than mosses...Many of them are tiny and difficult to identify like the cephalozias..or somewhat bigger and harder to identify (i'm thinking Lophozias here). But there are a few that are very recognizable in the field....and Conocephalum conicum is one of our largest thalloid liverworts. It loves wet soil along streams, under ledges and over rocks next to waterfalls. It grows in overlapping, flat mats. It rather looks like green snake skin.



A close up of the thallus shows that it has little polygonal markings on the surface (which give it it's distinctive snakeskin-like appearance...and that in the center of each polygon is a dot. These dots are pores which lead into air chambers. Conocephalum is part of a group of liverworts that have a multi-layered, or complex,  thallus - small epidermal (surface) cells and larger interior cells. It is quite aromatic and emits a spicy-fragrant scent when the fresh plant is crushed.
   This liverwort is dioecious, which is a fancy word meaning that it has separate male and female plants. the plant above is male...you can tell by the small, brown circular patches at the end of the branches.
The next time you're in a wet area, look for this conspicuous liverwort.