Saturday, December 4, 2010

Mosses and Lichens and Liverworts, Oh My!

This time of year, the darkness stays late and falls early. The flowers of spring and summer are gone, the colorful fungi of autumn have withered away, and there's no snow yet to preserve the tracks of wandering forest creatures. In short, there are fewer and fewer temptations to call me away from the warmth of my fireside and sofa. Except for Evelyn. Whenever Evelyn calls, I'm out the door, eager for whatever nature adventure she has in mind. Just yesterday, it was rocks. Not the mysterious holey boulder she led us to last month near Thirteenth Lake, but rather the rocky outcroppings riddled with caves that line the Red Oak Ridge Trail in the woods high above Moreau Lake.

I had told her about some caves up there where I'd found Walking Fern, an evergreen plant that indicates a limestone substrate, and that piqued her interest for sure. Evelyn lives in the Adirondacks, where there's plenty of granite and marble, but precious little limestone, so she was curious to see what we might find growing there. Meaning mosses and liverworts, mostly, since these bryophytes are one of Evelyn's special interests. And a wonderful thing about mosses and liverworts, they stay green all year, thus giving us something to hunt for out there, whatever the season.

Climbing the trail, we followed a pretty stream that was full and rushing from this past week's torrential rains.

Close by the stream, we found a patch of Conocephalum liverwort covering a dampened rock, a species of liverwort that Evelyn told me typically grows on limestone or marble. The liverwort is the flat green patch in the upper right of this photo, which also shows other evergreen plants, such as Plantain-leaved Sedge and Marginal Wood Fern, plus the over-wintering leaves of Foamflower peeking out from under the brown fallen leaves of poplar, hickory, and maple.

We found lots of different kinds of mosses, some growing on rocks, some covering rotting logs, and I wish I had recorded all that we found. Only a few of my photos came out, however (the light in the woods was quite dim), but I did get one shot that included three mosses at once. On the left, the long finger-like moss is Hedwigia (sp?), while the soft furry stuff on the right is Dicranum scoparium. I can't remember the name of the one in the middle, with flat glossy leaves. I hope Evelyn sees this photo and fills me in. (Update: Evelyn's friend Ruth Schottman did see this photo and informed me that this middle moss is Mnium. Thanks, Ruth.)

Here's more of the Dicranum moss encroaching on a patch of glossy liverwort called Scapania.

Growing on the bark of many trees along our trail were dark patches of what I thought might be lichens or fungus, but Evelyn corrected me, informing me that these patches were instead a liverwort called Frullania fragifolia. On some of the trees, the liverwort extended in thready branchings that looked like tree limbs.

Here's a closer view of those branchings, revealing the tiny braided sacs that distinguish this liverwort.

We did find one mushroom, a small one with a globular head and long stem, popping up among the dry leaves. I have no idea what it is. I should have dismantled it to gain more clues to its species, but I usually like to leave things the way they are.

Evelyn found it remarkable that this lichen, called Peltigera canina, was displaying wide-open fruiting bodies this late in the year. Its common name is Dog Lichen, and yes, those fruiting bodies do look a bit like dogs' ears.

We found the pretty evergreen leaves of such low-growing flowering plants as Pipsissewa and Striped Wintergreen (pictured here).

Evelyn later informed me she was told there was no record of Striped Wintergreen (also called Spotted Wintergreen) growing in Saratoga County. I find that a little hard to believe, since I have found it growing abundantly in several areas of Moreau Lake State Park. But I hope not too many other folks find it. It's so attractive it could be exploitably vulnerable.

So what about that Walking Fern and those caves I promised to show to Evelyn? She told me she had seen this fern only once before, so I was eager to find it. But I didn't. I thought I knew exactly which boulder I'd found it growing on, one I'd visited many times. But there are lots of boulders up on that ridge, many of them flecked with garnet. I did find a nice patch of garnets.

And we also found another unusual fern that likes to grow on limestone, called Ebony Spleenwort. We were amazed to see it so green and sprightly this close to winter. Maybe it's one of the evergreen ferns, like Walking Fern.

Well, I'm just going to have to go back up that Red Oak Ridge Trail to find those caves and that Walking Fern, another good excuse to get me outdoors. In the meantime, to prove that I really did find it up there, there's a blog post about it you can read by clicking here.


suep said...

Hi - sorry to have missed walking at Moreau with you and Evelyn ! (I was driving home from Vermont).
As usual, your blog today is very informative to those of us who don't know a moss from a lichen!

Hey didn't we see the Walking Fern up in the Valley of the Porcupines?
(instead of on Red Oak Ridge)..?
I'll go check there, tomorrow...

Adirondackcountrygal said...

Amazing what you can see if you really slow down and look around. I wish I had the ability to name all the plants I see besides just the basics. Fern, moss, etc.. Thanks you for sharing!

Woodswalker said...

Hi Sue. You can thank Evelyn for the information about mosses and lichens. I'm just beginning to try to distinguish them. And yes, the WF is up in the porcupine area, which is accessed by starting on the ROR trail.

Yes, ADKcountrygal, we sure have a huge variety of plants, so many that I doubt I will ever be able to name them all, but I'm trying. It helps to have knowledgeable friends to teach you what they know. Thanks for stopping by with your gracious comment.

Ellen Rathbone said...

Oh, how I wish I could've been along on this hike! Brings back memories of my bryophyte class in college. You found some great stuff.

Woodswalker said...

Oh Ellen, how I wish you could have been with us, too! I miss you but hope you are finding new delights in your new position. Bryophytes are EVERYwhere!

PeterRet said...

Hi, seems that the mushroom you found is one of the Cordyceps fungi - not at all that common and quite special, as they grow as parasites on other fungi, but even more often on insect larvae and puppas.