By Mary Reid Barrow
Walking in the woods these days is like treading on the dividing line between summer and winter.
There’s a blustery nip in the air one day and you wish you had a heavier coat on and the next day, it’s hot and you take the coat off.
Sometimes, it’s raining so hard , you can’t walk at all and other days, it’s hot and so dry, you wish for rain.
All around, the leaves are turning but the wind driven swish of drying leaves on the trees says we are still on the autumn side of the dividing line.
But wait! On this day, back off the trail under the trees, something brilliant and green, totally out of character with the surrounding landscape, is growing on the toasty brown forest floor.
It looks like spring again. But no. It’s several bright sparkly green clumps of moss , defiantly daring any season to slow it down.
I got so interested in these spring-like oases growing in the woods in November that I began researching moss. It’s not easy.
I think the moss in my photos is broom moss, a moss that is native to most of the United States, but don’t hold me to that. There are thousands of species of moss out there.
And moss can grow most anywhere—on trees, on rocks or on soil. They like shade where they can stay moist.
I learned a couple more simple facts about moss before my brain gave out. These “plants” don’t have roots. The “roots” are only anchors that hold them in place. Moss absorbs all their nutrients and water from the air.
Moss has tiny stems on which even tinier capsules grow. These capsules produce the spores which are like the seeds from which more moss will grow.
But the most interesting thing I learned is that moss is dependent on water to grow, but it doesn’t need water to live.
Some moss can turn brown and live for years without water and spring back “alive” again. Moss may even be happier in winter, cold though it may be, because of the amount of winter weather moisture.
But there’s no doubt about it, whatever the season, you can find a touch of spring in the woods if we have had some rain.
Just look for the moss.
Do you have a favorite tree or plant with a story to tell? What relationships have you observed between plants and critters? Who eats whom? Who has babies where? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org