Few can argue, there is hardly a thing prettier than a soft bed of moss. Green, lush, delicate, it’s easy to conjure the touch and feel of moss against ones fingers. There is just something whimsical and melancholic about it.
Much like their shade and water-loving forest companions, fungi and ferns, mosses propagate through spore dispersal. The times you have seen moss covering the side of a tree, rolling over the forest floor or perched upon stone, it isn’t always flat and plush. The occasions we see moss plump and leafy, it is in the gametophyte stage of its life cycle. Mosses reproduce sexually (although it is also capable of asexual reproduction i.e.. when smaller parts of itself are broken off and relocated), meaning there is both male and female moss. A male gametophyte will produce male gametes, sperm, and a female gametophyte will produce eggs. A leafy green moss is preparing itself for reproduction.
Moss thrive in wet, damp conditions for more than a few reasons. One of these is that moss lacks a vascular system. Picking up a clump of moss and turning it over, you may notice there is very little in the way of a root system. The small, thread-like roots called rhizoids help moss cling to surfaces and do absorb some water but scarcely enough. It is for this reason that a clump of moss is very much like a sponge. With very small roots and no vascular system, the entire body of a moss is responsible for water collection and absorption. In the safety of shade and moisture, moss has found a place where it can use this handicap to thrive.
A second reason for moss’s water-loving nature: water plays a crucial part in its reproductive cycle. When a male gametophyte’s sperm are ready for dispersion it will release these gametes into the raindrops that fall upon it. Once the sperm are contained in a drop of water, it will splash onto the neighboring female moss, fertilizing them. When the female gametophyte has been fertilized, it is now in sporophyte generation.
This is where moss changes from its plush, leafy state. Little nodding hoods rise out of moss patches, suspended by a single filament. This bobbing hood is called a capsule, protected by a calyptra. The capsule is the mature sporophyte, containing thousands of ripened spores. Once the calyptra is shed, the capsule will expand and contract in response to fluctuating moisture levels in its surroundings, releasing its spores in the meantime.
After all its spores have been released, the little hood will brown and dry, eventually falling off. Following this last step, the reproduction cycle will start anew!
Moss is indispensable for a shaded garden. If you find yourself in a north facing home or without much sun, try growing moss on a stone or a terra-cotta pot. If you have a shady windowsill, you could cover the outer ledge with moss to create an eccentric lookout.
To grow moss on pottery or stone
You will need…
Moss that you have found outside, growing on top of soil or in a lawn
2 cups Buttermilk and
Mix the moss and buttermilk in a blender until you achieve a milkshake-like consistency.
Paint this mixture on your chosen pot or stone. Mist it twice daily for 6 weeks, ensuring it is kept out of direct sunlight. If you let it dry out, you will have to start over again.
To grow moss on an outside ledge
You can used the recipe above and paint it on a windowsill or, if you would like a cushionier, plusher moss selection, take a shallow gardening tray, typically used for seed progation and fix it to your windowsill with glue, screws or otherwise.
Fill it will a thin layer of potting soil and then plant your mosses, making sure to water them daily until established. Voila, a pretty and mystical windowsill!
Once again, make sure your mosses are not left to dry out. Its hard to worry about overwatering, since moss is such a profound water consumer.
If you happen to find a parched or dried out patch of moss
You can always resuscitate it. Simply let it soak in water, then let it dry out completely and then soak and allow to dry out once more. Place it in a humid and shady place and it should come back to life in a few weeks.
For more moss related projects, visit our post on terrarium gardening.
Words that make you sound cool:
Sporophyte ˈspôrəˌfīt The stage of a plant life cycle that produces spores, alternating with the gametophyte stage.