Monday, September 15, 2014

Bryophytes with Ed Schwarzmann -- A glimpse into the world of moss

Thanks to Ed Schwartzman for another wonderful day of botany in the woods! This time he gave us a new appreciation for Bryophytes - in the beautiful Glen Falls area. With enthusiasm and amazing knowledge, he helped us better understand the complexity of mosses and liverworts and to see their intricate beauty. I'm already looking forward to knowing where he will lead us next year. Jean Hunnicutt

 Wow we were certainly enlightened with bryophytes. Ed has so much enthusiasm for his subject and to think that is not his primary subject! Wish we had more Herons with us to absorb Ed's knowledge. He would inspire our future botanists. Instead, he just made us appreciate life more. Joyce Hall

 A relatively chilly mountain summer morning greeted those of us participating in the “Bryophyte Foray to Glen Falls”. Many of us had only a token idea of the extent of the vegetative world to which we would be introduced as the day progressed: the world of Bryophytes, the oldest of all lineages of land plants. Minute plants without vascular systems that are recognized as mosses, liverworts, and hornworts! Our essential ambassador on this journey into another world of plant life was Ed Schwartzman, a botanist with the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, whose knowledge of local plant life is matched only by his own genuine enthusiasm and warm personality. Ed led a brief discussion of why the Glen Falls area is a good example of a Bryophytes “hot spot”. This area, as well as other areas in the Blue Ridge Escarpment, are considered temperate rain forest and have geologically formed recessed pockets or grottos that maintain the right amount of constant humidity and temperature ideal for the existence of Bryophytes. Couple this with the lack of glaciation and it can be understood why there is such a tremendous amount of Bryophyte diversity dating back millions of years. There are two distinct forms of liverworts, leafy and thalloid. Leafy liverworts can look very much like mosses. However, the leaf arrangement distinguishes liverworts from mosses; leafy liverwort leaflets are arranged in two or three rows while the leaflets in mosses are spirally arranged. Thalloid liverworts do not look like mosses, in that there are no stems or leaves and the body is flat. Ed explained that there are also two distinct, general forms of mosses. Acrocarpous mosses are usually unbranched and erect. Pleurocarpous mosses tend to form low-lying branching carpets, rather than the erect tufts that are typical of the Acrocarps. After a discussion of the life cycle of mosses, and clutching our hand-held magnifying lenses (with any head-gear appropriately positioned in the backwards mode whenever possible), we headed off to the edge of the parking lot to begin to take a closer look into the Bryophyte world. It was amazing to see the various details of mosses– e.g., little individual vertical stems with leaves or horizontal branching, tangled and creeping, forming carpets on wood (dead and alive), rocks, and ground. And to see, liverworts with their complicated leafy structures, frequently growing alongside their mossy bryophyte brethren.. Someone said that it would be possible to spend the whole day looking at one Bryophyte covered fallen tree trunk, exploring the many different Bryophyte species, along with the equally diminutive invertebrate wildlife that calls these forests of minute, simple plants home. Upon reaching the Glen Falls, many of us got our feet wet climbing around boulders and looking into crevices to see the many different species that Ed pointed out (or just wading in the water!). At one point, deep into a rock crevice, a flashlight was needed to be able to see small plant details, in addition to a magnifying lens,. So, so small and so, so unique. It is hard to communicate the excitement one can feel experiencing some of the details of life that can only be appreciated with modest magnification. With nose pressed close to the green, there is a real element of surprise when your hand lens happens to come across the intricate details of a mosquito resting on a minute Bryophyte leaflet. Or when viewing, seemingly, the large distinct red cell of the liverwort, Frullania asagrayana, only to discover a red bug that slowly ambles away – you know then you are observing a different world! Approximately 10 of the 30 moss species listed in a welcome handout of local bryophytes were identified, while about 3 liverwort species of the 9 listed were identified. No hornworts identified on this outing. Glen Falls is a lovely place with at least two water falls (upper and lower). It is a moderate hike down to the bottom of the second cascade but the return trip is all uphill; we weren’t chilly on the walk back! Glen Falls is a good place to consider returning to in search of Bryophytes and other, frequently unique, denizens of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. A significant challenge to some of us remains how to continue to further explore this elfin world of Bryophytes as part of our routine daily activities that typically occur on a different size scale and altitude above the ground. Binoculars are an essential tool for observing distant birds; having a hand lens at the ready at all times is the logical first step for observing Bryophytes . And to remember how much can be experienced by stooping over to the level of ancient plant species that are rarely more than an inch tall. The mission of the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program ( is to “provide a scientific basis for effective conservation by compiling information on rare species and natural communities and distributing the information to the public and other agencies for planning and protection efforts.” The citizens of North Carolina can be both proud and grateful to have Ed Schwartzman as part of this important program. Thank you, Ed! Brent Martin, Director of the Wilderness Society’s Southern Appalachian Region, helped to organize the outing with Ed and the rest of us. Thank you, Brent, for making the day possible! Helen Regnery

Here's a link to a recent story about moss.

Here's a link to David Fann's photos of the day

And here are Karen's photos with Ed's comments:

Anomodon triste - note broken leaf tips
Atrichum sp.
Diplophyllum apiculatum

Fern Moss (Thuidium delicatum)

Not sure about this one but could be Frullania - I think the lighter green tips are perianths from which the female reproductive structure emerge
Mnium sp

Peat Moss - Sphagnum sp.

Pellia sp.

Plagiochila sp. - likely asplenoides or sharpii - Tropical genus
Not sure about this one but I pointed it out because it has plantlets visible

Pocket Moss (Fissidens sp.) - a little dried out 
Scapania sp. 

Well hydrated Fissidens

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