Moss expert or Bryologist Jacqueline Wright collected moss samples from the OneOak tree on the day that it was felled. Jacqueline volunteers for Shotover Wildlife which is a voluntary organisation founded to research and communicate the importance of Shotover Hill for wildlife. Jacqueline has written the following article for the OneOak project.
Mosses are the green fuzz that everyone knows about but no one notices. It was the same for me until I was shown a moss capsule under a hand lens. I was entranced. How could anything so small be so utterly exquisite? This is moss! A miniature world of natural wonder, stems and leaves so tiny you need a handlens to experience their beauty. Velvets, silks, glowing satin sheens and translucent layers of light are all part of the deep, lush world of mosses.
Life can be such a rush that the timeless world of these bryophytes (mosses and liverworts together) is of little consequence to anyone. But make space to quietly and attentively focus down on the green carpet beneath your feet and you’re in for a treat. And so it is for the mosses of the One Oak project.
As the various forest researchers fell upon the tree on the One Oak Felling Day, and set to work measuring and weighing the trunk, branches and twigs, so I too clambered over, under and between, handlens at the ready to see what mosses were to reveal themselves in the tree canopy, beyond the sight and reach of any human-sized moss hunter during its life as a standing tree.
Mosses love wet weather and they were swollen full of sleety rain on Launch Day, with their cushions and mats lending a soft carpeting layer to the trunk and branches of the One Oak, each moss showing off its own rich vibrant green, bronze, olive or gold.
As well as their sheer beauty, they have the loveliest Latin names, so given that whichever language is spoken, everyone worldwide knows which plant is being referred to. Try the poetic rhythm of these; Porella platy-phylla, Cepha-loziella ham-peana, or Chilo-scyphus poly-anthos. Like little songs of nature. Or if you want a longer one: Bryo-erythro-phyllum recurvi-rostrum, a tiny moss with a big ego! When broken down into their constituent parts like this it can be appreciated how descriptive and useful the names are in helping to understand the plant. For example, Bryo-erythro-phyllum recurvi-rostrum means moss (Bryo), with red (erythro), on the leaf (phyllum), with curled under leaf margins (recurvi), and a ‘beak’(rostrum) on the capsule.
All mosses and liverworts have also been given English names and this can help if you are not used to Latin.
Each moss has its own particular attributes that makes it a unique species. Often these features are at the cellular level and a microscope is needed to identify them.
Four different growth forms
There are 4 distinctive growth forms of Bryophytes and knowing this can help you make sense of the plants that you see around you.
In acro-carpous mosses the capsule (carpous) arises from the apex or tip (acro) of the upright stems. In pleurocarpous ones the capsule grows from the side branches or ‘ribs’ (pleuro) with the plants forming widely spreading mats.
For the liverworts, thallose and foliose growth forms can be readily picked out as different; thallose plants consisting of flat plates or ribbons of green tissue that don’t have separated stem and leaves, in contrast to foliose ones that have their leaves in rows down each side of a distinct stem.
Platygyrium repens is a handsome, bronzed species I found in the lower canopy of the One Oak
Some of the mosses found on the One Oak
Platygyrium repens, the Flat-brocade Moss was until recently a nationally scarce moss. It is now on the increase and has found a favourable home on trees at Blenheim Palace. It is a handsome, bronzed species I found in the lower canopy of the One Oak, and is a mat-forming pleurocarpous moss, with tiny but distinctive brush-like bristles at the ends of its branches. These branchlets break off to make new plants. The moss is thought to be an alien, having crept almost un-noticed into the UK in 1945 but not recognized as a new species until 1962.
Dicranoweisia cirrata or Common Pincushion looks just like one, with its many capsules splayed out like dressmakers pins. This is an acrocarpous species that loves acidic conditions, whether acid rain or acidic bark so is described as an acidophile. Oak has an acidic bark and there were a few cushions on the trunk.
Hypnum resupinatum is known as the Supine Plait-moss because of the plaited appearance of its tightly-overlapping leaves. It was growing in widely spreading mats over the deeply fissured bark.
Orthotrichum affine is the Wood Bristle-moss featuring straight-haired bristles on the delicate hoods that protect the capsules whilst the spores inside are ripening. It grows on trees and was found on the branches.
Metzgeria temperata is a thallose liverwort, the only one I found on the tree. It grows in flat ribbons and is a subtle yellowy-green, found in a patch of about 2mm.
These enchanting plants are the gateway to a completely different world. It just takes a little time, patience and attentiveness to break through into this miniature landscape. It’s just waiting to be noticed …
Jacqueline A. Wright