Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mosses (and More) on the Mountain

Just because all the flowers are gone by now, that doesn't mean there's nothing for botanizers to seek out in the woods.  There's still lots of wonderful stuff to be found, since many mosses, lichens, liverworts, and even some ferns are unaffected by the freezing weather and can be sought all winter long.  Of course, it helps to know what you're looking for, and I can't imagine a better teacher than Nancy Slack, shown here examining  a clump of Tetraphis pellucida, one of the mosses to be found on nearly every rotting tree stump and fallen log.

A longtime biology professor at Russel Sage College who still teaches botany courses there,  Nancy joined me on Friday morning for a hike up the Red Oak Ridge Trail in Moreau Lake State Park.  Our destination was a group of limestone caves on the top of the ridge, but we took our time to get there, stopping to take a closer look at many of the fascinating mosses along the way.  Here's a closer view of that Tetraphis pellucida, revealing the pellucid leaves that suggest its specific name.

This trio of ferns also caught our attention, since it's unusual to find all three of our common evergreen ferns together in one location.  Top left is Intermediate Wood Fern, its leaflets (pinnae) more intricately cut than those of the Marginal Wood Fern on the right.  The fern on the bottom is Christmas Fern, distinctive for the Christmas-stocking shape of its individual pinnae.

The Intermediate Wood Fern is named for the way its spore cases (sori) are arranged on the back of the pinnae, midway between the spine and the margin.

The Marginal Wood Fern bears its sori right at the outer edges (margins) of its pinnae.  (We have a third wood fern, the Spinulose Wood Fern, but that fern won't be found this time of year, since it's not evergreen.)

When we reached the caves near the top of the ridge, I was eager to show Nancy the boulders where Walking Fern grows.  This is a rather uncommon fern that is usually found only on limestone or marble.  When I first found this rather unfern-like fern several years ago, there was just a small clump near the cave entrance, but it has since "walked" the whole width of the moss-covered boulder to where Nancy is standing to take its photo.

This photo shows the long thin fronds that produce new plants wherever the tips touch the moss.

On a nearby boulder we found this beautiful moss that looks like tiny palm trees.  Its name, Atrichum undulatum, refers to the rippled (undulating) texture of its leaves.

Another particularly beautiful moss is Rhodobryum roseum, which looks like tiny green flowers.

A sure sign that we were among limey rocks was this large patch of Anomodon attenuata, which is found only on limestone or marble.

How odd, then, that on the other side of the very same boulder where we found that Anomodon, we found this wooly-textured Dicranum fulvum, a moss that can grow only on acidic rock, such as quartzite.  We surmised, then, that our boulder was made up of at least two different kinds of rocks.

This brown bedraggled-looking stuff is Hedwigia, a moss that is not particular about the acidity of the rocks it grows on.

An interesting aspect of Hedwigia is that, no matter how shriveled and brown it appears, it will  plump up and turn green as soon as it is dampened.  Nancy picked a sprig and wet it in a nearby stream.  A few minutes later it looked like this.

We found a rotting log nearly covered by this shiny reddish-brown liverwort called Nowellia curvifolia.   Sorry, but my camera proved too stubborn and would not focus close enough to show the curving leaves that give this pretty liverwort its specific name.

I love how this moss, Hypnum pellescens, has sent out tendrils that trace the cracks in the rock it grows on, creating a very spidery appearance.

I hadn't known that this fern, a Botrychium or Grape Fern, was evergreen, but there it was, lifting its pretty bi-colored frond above the dead leaves of the forest.  Nancy has suggested that this is Botrychium lanceolatum, a species that I have never seen before.


Carolyn H said...

Oh, I love your mosses. I love mosses and ferns too. Try as I might, i've never been able to get my adventure camp kids interested in them. They are much more impressedy by crayfish and salamanders and the like.

Ellen Rathbone said...

Those names bring back to mind my Bryophyte class from grad school. Hypnum, Dicranum...many familiar names. And many more that we didn't learn. Mosses are a wonderful world, but a tricky one to really learn well. Looks like you've found a great teacher.

-S said...

You and your great nature photos!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Well, Carolyn, who could blame those kids for preferring the wriggly critters? I'm just beginning to try to learn some mosses, very few of which have common names, and it's hard to remember the long scientific names.

You're right, Ellen, about mosses being tricky. If I could positively learn just a few each year, I'd be happy.

Hey, -S, nice of you to stop by. I'm glad you like the nature photos. I sure like taking them.