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Science & NatureNatureMVFN Nature Talk: All about mosses

MVFN Nature Talk: All about mosses

Contributed by Chris Baburek

On Thursday, October 20 the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist members were treated to a Nature Talk by Jennifer Doubt, Curator of Botany at the Canadian Museum of Nature.  There she manages a growing archive of over one million specimens of Canadian wild plants.  Jennifer reminded us that the collection – the National Herbarium of Canada – is for Canadian and international researchers, educators, students and all of us!

Jennifer is an expert on Bryophytes – mosses and their relatives. She explained that many plants we call mosses are not actually mosses at all. She gave the examples of Irish Moss, Spanish Moss, Scotch Moss, Club Moss, Stonecrop and Reindeer Moss, none of which are mosses.

Jennifer went on to explain that mosses are non-vascular plants, with small leaves and stems, but no roots.  They do not have flowers or berries; they reproduce by releasing spores that germinate wherever they land, as long as some water is present.   Freezing and drying do not seem to cause a major problem for mosses; they generally bounce back when water is present.  For this reason they can be found in extreme locales, like Antarctica.  And because any cell can be carried by water wind or animals, and grow into a new organism (a clone), mosses are expert at colonizing disturbed areas.

Identification of different kinds of mosses can be a bit challenging and generally requires at least a hand lens.  And dry moss can look very different from wet moss of the same species.  There are over 800 species of mosses in Quebec and Ontario alone.  Jennifer provided some tips to help us identify different species of mosses, as well as information that is helpful to include when posting sightings to iNaturalist.

Jennifer concluded by reminding us that mosses, like all plants, are important for food, shelter, water filtration, erosion control, oxygen and carbon storage.  Peatlands are very important as they are a type of wetland and store an enormous amount of carbon.  Jennifer then challenged us to look for Fan Moss, which is quite rare in Canada but has been found in Gatineau Park and parts of Eastern Ontario relatively recently.

This was the first presentation of the 2022 winter series. The next one, on November 17th,  will be about flying squirrels. For information or to become a member of MVFN visit their website at mvfn.ca

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