Mosses are one of the oldest forms of land vegetation on Earth. They have been around for more than 400 million years and constitute one of the largest divisions in the plant kingdom. There is a common misconception that moss grows only on the damp, shady ground, but that is not true moss will grow anywhere with enough moisture.
Mosses are part of the division Bryophyta and either grow up a few inches or spread across surfaces. They are simple plants and lack tissue to transport food or water to different plant parts. Unlike other plants, moss does not have roots; instead, taking its nutrients through its leaves and stems. Moss is a plant that loves to grow in damp, shady places.
Moss is a plant that typically grows in areas with little light exposure. When you see moss on trees and rocks, it’s usually growing in these places because it can’t get enough sunlight to grow elsewhere. Moss often looks like solid green carpeting and thrives off moisture from the air around them.
Mosses are a group of plants that come in many different textures and colors. They like to grow on trees, rocks, and other surfaces in damp places. Many mosses have tiny leaves, which means that they appear smooth rather than bumpy like you might expect from other plants. This gives them their carpet look. However, many moss species can be found growing worldwide, many species grow in North America.
They do not have stems, leaves, or roots as other plants do. Their roots are called rhizoids, which hold them in place but do not absorb nutrients from the ground. Instead, the plant absorbs these all over but mainly through their leaves. Unlike more sophisticated plants, the ‘leaves’ are usually only one cell thick.
Unlike most plants, they don’t produce seeds or flowers. Moss usually has spore capsules on long stalks. The spore capsules germinate plants that will then produce eggs and sperm. Once fertilized, the eggs will produce more moss to grow.
Moss has a single set of chromosomes compared to most plants with two sets. Once in their life cycle, mosses have two sets of chromosomes, but only when the egg is fertilized.
Where Do Mosses Grow?
Although they look pretty delicate, mosses are tough, hardy plants and can grow in many places. Moss can even be found in the Arctic. Moss can also be found on rocks on shores, deserts, streams, marshes, and bogs.
Most mosses live in damp, shaded areas, preferring temperate climates. They can often be seen carpeting huge areas in woodland and forests, covering the ground, trees, and logs.
Although most mosses are hardy, some require special conditions to grow. Some will only live around copper, something that prospectors have used in the past to their advantage. Other species will only grow on alkaline or acid soil.
You may have seen brightly glowing moss, and luminous moss can be found only in very dimly lit places, such as caves or under tree roots. The moss isn’t glowing but highly reflective, with the light bouncing off as a bright green light. The luminous moss cells are small, and any light that reaches them focuses on the chlorophyll granules, which reflect the light.
Moss grows in larger quantities on the north side of rocks and trees as this is usually shadier than the southern side. However, this is only true in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, moss grows more on the south side. This is because either more sunshine on the opposite side dries the area, not allowing the plant to grow as well, or moss grows on the damper side of trees and rocks.
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Do Mosses Grow In Deserts and Through Drought?
Mosses are usually found in temperate forests, and although they love moisture, they can also live through droughts and deserts. Moss can store vast amounts of water in their cells which they draw on during the early parts of a drought. They then go dormant, with their leaves curled up to keep as much moisture in the plant as possible.
Although they may look dead with shriveled brown leaves, one good rainfall is all it takes to rejuvenate them. They become fresh and green again before resuming their usual process.
Why Are Mosses Useful?
Mosses are essential for their habitat. They play an important role in forming soil that allows other plants to grow and take root. Moss also protects the soil from eroding before becoming soil itself when they decompose. Some species also provide nitrogen for the ecosystem.
Moss is used for filling cracks in log cabins, stuffing mattresses, and filling out gardens. Mosses are an excellent addition to the garden as they can fill out large areas. Garden centers use them to pack around the roots of plants as they keep their moisture, and they are excellent for digging into gardens to improve and soften their texture.
Moss-covered logs and rocks also make a great piece to have in gardens. In some areas, the entire garden is one moss mat that needs little looking after as it doesn’t need mowing or watering.
Peat is made up of a large amount of sphagnum moss that has been waterlogged in bogs.
Not all Moss is a Moss
Many plants are called moss, even though they are not related to mosses. Reindeer moss is a lichen, as is Iceland moss. Sea moss is a seaweed, while Iris moss is an alga. Spanish moss can be found in the southeastern United States and is a plant from the pineapple family.
Club mosses are a distinct group of plants. They look like moss, although they are only distantly related. However, not all club mosses look like moss, with some resembling miniature pines and cedars. Club mosses are different from true mosses as they have roots, leaves, and stems. Another difference is that club mosses have a circulatory system to transport nutrients and water from the roots to the leaves.
Some of the confusion between moss and club moss, apart from their name, is due to them being grouped under the division bryophytes.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.