Mar 20, 2013

OHC: We Like Lichens and Most Mosses!

Dead?...or alive?
It's so nice to see that there really is something alive in the woods during this endlessly gray time of year. I can't remember the last time I posted any pics on this blog that had a blue sky in it. In a Mid-Atlantic winter, we get mid-tones and almost nothing else.

So you can understand our delight to be directed by the Outdoor Hour Challenge to go find the little guys that are doing their work no matter the weather: lichens and mosses.

The March Challenge newsletter informed us that there are three groups of lichens: foliose, fruticose, and crustose. It's really pretty easy to remember what they mean. Foliose looks like foliage, specifically funky lettuce.Crustose are found encrusting rocks  Fruticose looks like fine threads, which doesn't look like the word fruit, but whatever.

Cool lichen facts:
Lichens can delay global warming by consuming significant amounts of CO2, can prevent soil from drying out, help release important nutrients into the soil, and even provide food and, in some cases nesting material, for animals.

I gave an incentive.  For every example  found there would be a prize (Hershey Kisses always work). There would be a bonus if all three types were identified.

Lacking in natural formations in our area, for crustose we needed to expand our definition of rock. The neighbor's cement gatepost had some discoloration. Before, I would have assumed that to be some mold or dirt. But with our new knowledge, we could see that in fact it was the early stage of some crustose  lichen growth. Yeah! One down!
Trusting in the handy, dandy Magi-scope to confirm a lichen sighting
Into the woods, we went for more!

Beautiful array of lichens on gneiss
A lone rock peeking from under the dense layer of decomposing leaves revealed  crustose lichen on a more natural host.

Foliose was easy. Our mixed hardwood forest has taken a lot of hits in recent years from severe winds and storms, so there were stacks of fallen timber succumbing to decay. Even up and down dying trunks, we saw ample samples. :-)

(left) Foliose, like lettuce leaves, on branch; (right) fruticose found growing from leaf matter

Only one more to go, fruticose.  The day before I had scouted the area for quarry and nearly stepped on a tiny patch of this, the only one I saw in the entire walk. Maybe ever. I hoped Mei might be eagle-eyed enough to find it herself, but--my bad--I didn't make enough mental note to narrow the search. I did bring home a bit of my personal find so at least she could see it.

On the way back we opened our eyes to the only green in the monochromatic landscape: moss.

Cool Moss info:
Mosses play their part by holding back moisture and preventing erosion, and by being a "pioneer" species, breaking down acidic soil at the base of trees and paving the way for other plants to take root. But I bet you didn't know this:
"The value of Sphagnum [moss] for covering wounds has been known for centuries.  But it was not until the early 20th century that there was widespread commercial production, reaching its peak in the First World War, when some one million Sphagnum dressings per month [emphasis mine] were used by the British forces.  Sphagnum was harvested, cleaned and dried and sent off in bales to factories where it was sewn up in fine muslin and sterilised. " Uses of Mosses and Liverworts
(left) Moss with sporophytes, red spore-baring spikes;  (right top): moss and lichens together; (middle) spores on my finger; (bottom) a bit of sphagnum

Paying closer attention than usual, we realized how many different types surrounded us. I gave Mei the camera and she shot these. We took some bits home to draw in our nature journals, but the one with the fascinating spores wasn't happy in the baggie with its mates, and died before we could get around to the illustrations. At least, Mei could see the black spot on my finger where I had brushed against the moss capsules that held the spores.

In all it was a new way for us to enjoy a well-trod path, especially in what we once thought was a dead landscape. 
And yes, she earned her Kisses. 

Got Moss? Got Anything Green? Tell Mother All About It!

Then hop over to The Handbook of Nature Study Blog Carnival to see what other nature nerdies found! 

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