Book of August: Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts

Last winter when I scheduled a talk/walk on lichens and another on mosses for this summer, I wasn’t sure what the public response would be, and so it was a pleasant surprise that both were well received. While Maine Master Naturalist Jeff Pengel spoke to us and then led us down the trail taking a close-up look at lichens in July, Ralph Pope introduced many to mosses for the first time on August 1. And then he took us only part way down a trail on August 2, for there were samples everywhere–both at our feet and sometimes even eye level.

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Ralph is the author of Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast. He began thinking about writing such a guide while teaching a course on bryophyte identification at Antioch University New England. “I realized that the available resources were not inviting for a beginning student,” says Ralph.

His book begins with a description of bryophyte biology, taxonomy and ecology for those who are interested. As he states on page 11, “Mosses, hornworts, and liverworts, the three groups making up the bryophytes, evolved from the aquatic ancestors of modern green algae and represent the beginnings of terrestrial plant life, eventually giving rise to our amazingly diverse array of vascular plants.” Beyond words. Beyond our world.

I’ve used another guide, but this one seems so much easier to follow for Pope has formatted it into divisions that make sense to my brain–Spagnaceae: peat mosses; Acrocarpous: (acro-high; carpous-fruit) upright-growing mosses with fruits on the top; Pleurocarpous: (pleuro-side; carpous-fruit) mat-forming mosses with fruits extended on side branches; Liverworts (body of plant flat-thalloid; leaves in two rows-leafy) and Hornworts (uncommon–in fact, I’ve yet to meet one). These are in color-coded sections, making the process even easier.

And while each section begins with a key, for those who don’t like such things, there is a description of preferred habitat, family characteristics and then the species presented in alphabetical order (think Latin, for as Ralph pointed out, we’ve been spoiled by common names for birds and think that everything should have such, but for some species there are several common names, thus making it difficult to know for sure across the globe that we are talking about the same species.–Guess I need to get my Latin on) and illustrated with fabulous photographs.

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With a few slides, Ralph introduced the audience to bryophytes, which are the most primitive of plants having no roots, no flowers, and no woody structure. They are usually green (as opposed to the gray-green hues of lichens), translucent as they are only one cell thick, and often have spore capsules that last a long time.

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After the talk, he encouraged the audience to take a closer look at species gathered that day along the Westways Trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

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Behind each species an enlarged poster of the related page from his book included a description, similar species, range and habitat, and meaning of names or tips for identification.

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A crowd of 25 spanning ages 5 to 25 a few times over, stepped onto the Westways Trail with Ralph the next morning.

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His combined knowledge and humor kept us all enraptured with the world below our feet. To get a sense of Ralph’s voice is this sample from page 7, “Remember the old adage that if you happen to lose your compass, your iPhone, your GPS, your ability to see the sun, and your sense of direction, moss growth will show you the north side of a tree? Well, keep the compass handy, but the north side of a tree trunk does indeed get less desiccating sunlight than the rest of the tree trunk, so it just might have more moss growth. Score one for the Boy Scouts.”

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On moss-topped rocks, Ralph and his wife, Jean, had marked species to be sure to stop at for our edification. The number referred to the page in the book and for those who didn’t have their own copy, he had loaners. In this case, 255 is Pleurozium schreberi or Big Red Stem.

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He picked samples so we could each take a closer look and see the reason for the name–notice that red stem? Because most bryophytes cells are totipotent–thus they have the ability to grow into a new plant, trampling them or even breaking some off can lead to new growth, so he was happy to pass small samples around.

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We looked . . .

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and looked . . .

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and looked . . .

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some more.

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Of course, sometimes we just had to take a break. Oh to be five again!

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Our samples included Sphagnum pylaesii, with its pompom head,

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an acrocarp–Leucobryum glaucum, or pincushion moss,

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the pleurocarp, Calliergon cordifloium, 

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and the liverwort, Porella platyphylloidea. 

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For a couple of hours, we were all thoroughly enchanted . . .

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as we focused our intention on these miniature plants and this man–who opened our eyes.

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Only once did our attention get diverted–for some weasel scat. Thanks to intern Kelley’s keen eyes, a few of us saw the weasel scampering about thirty feet ahead. Still . . . notice where the weasel chose to make its contribution–on a rock covered in moss in the middle of the trail.

This book was a Christmas present from my guy and I look forward to many more days spent sitting on a rock getting to know my surroundings better.

Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast, Ralph Pope, Cornell University Press, 2016.

 

 

 

 

Books of December: A Holiday Wish List

In the spirit of changing things up a bit, I decided that I’d include five books I highly recommend you add to your holiday wish list and two that I hope to receive.

These are not in any particular order, but I’m just beginning to realize there is a theme–beyond that of being “nature” books.

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Book of December: Forest Forensics

Tom Wessels, forest guru and author of Reading the Forested Landscape, published this smaller work in 2010. Though only 5″ x 7.5″, the book is rather heavy because it’s filled with photographs. Despite the weight, Forest Forensics fits into a backpack and is the perfect guide for trying to figure out the lay of the land. Using the format of a dichotomous key, Wessels asks readers to answer two-part questions, which link to the photos as well as an Evidence section for Agriculture, Old Growth and Wind, plus Logging and Fire. In the back of the book, he includes Quick Reference Charts that list features of particular forest and field types. And finally, a glossary defines terms ranging from “age discontinuity” to “Uphill basal scar,” “weevil-deformed white pines” and “wind-tipped trees.” In total, it’s 160 pages long, but not necessarily a book you read from cover to cover. If you have any interest in rocks, trees, and the lay of the land, then this is a must have.

Forest Forensics by Tom Wessels, The Countryman Press, Woodstock, VT, 2010.

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Book of December: Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest

Michael L. Cline is executive director of Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, New Hampshire. In September, I had the pleasure of attending a talk he gave at the center about Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest. The 6″ x 9″ book weighs about the same as Wessels’, and will also fit handily into your pack. Of course, you might want to leave the books in your vehicle or at home and look up the items later–thus lightening your load. Using Brownfield Bog as one of his main go-to places, Cline describes 70 species of shrubs from Creeping Snowberry to Mountain Ash. The book is arranged by family, beginning with Mountain Maple and Striped Maple of the Aceraceae (Maple) family and ending with the American Yew of the Taxaceae (Yew) family. Each two-page layout includes photographs (and  occasionally drawings), plus a description of habit, leaves, flowers, twig/buds, habitat, range, wildlife use, notes and other names. I have no excuse now to not know what I’m looking at as I walk along–especially near a wetland. That being said, I’ll think of one–like I left the book at home, but I’ll get back to you.

Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest by Michael L. Cline, J.S. McCarthy Printers, 2016

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Book of December: Bogs and Fens

Ronald B. Davis’ book, Bogs and Fens, was a recent gift from my guy. I hadn’t asked for it, and actually didn’t know about it, so I’m tickled that he found it. I’m just getting to know Dr. Davis’s work, but trust that this 5.5″ x 8.5″ guide about peatland plants will also inform my walks. Again, it’s heavy. The first 26 pages include a description of vegetation and peatlands and even the difference between a fen and a bog. More than 200 hundred pages are devoted to the trees, plants and ferns. In color-coded format, Davis begins with the canopy level of trees and works down to tall shrubs, short and dwarf shrubs, prostrate shrubs, herbaceous plants and finally, ferns. He also includes an annotated list of books for further reference, as well as a variety of peatlands to visit from Wisconsin to Prince Edward Island. As a retired University of Maine professor, Davis has been a docent and guide at the Orono Bog Boardwalk for many years. Field trip anyone?

Bogs and Fens: A Guide to the Peatland Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada by Ronald B. Davis, University of New England Press, 2016.

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Book of December: Lab Girl

I’d never heard of Hope Jahren until this summer and then several people recommended her book, Lab Girl, to me. Rather than a guide, this is the story of Jahren’s journey from her childhood in rural Minnesota to the science labs she has built along the way. As a scientist, Jahren takes the reader through the ups and downs of the research world. And she does so with a voice that makes me feel like we’re old friends. Simultaneously, she interweaves short chapters filled with  information about the secret life of plants, giving us a closer look at their world. I had to buy a copy because for me, those chapters were meant to be underlined and commented upon. I do believe this will be a book I’ll read over and over again–especially those in-between chapters.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.

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Book of December: The Hidden Life of TREES

And finally, a gift to myself: The Hidden Life of TREES by Peter Wohlleben. I’d first learned about this book in a newspaper article published last year and had to wait until recently to purchase it after the book was translated from German to English. Again, it’s not a field guide, but offers a delightful read that makes me think. And thus, you can see my bookmark. I’ve not finished reading it yet, but I’m having fun thinking about some different theories Wohlleben puts forth. As a forester, Wohlleben has spent his career among trees and knows them well. He’s had the opportunity to witness firsthand the ideas he proclaims about how trees communicate. And so, I realize as I read it that I, too,  need to listen and observe more closely to what is going on in the tree world–one of my favorite places to be. Maybe he’s right on all accounts–the best part is that he has me questioning.

The Hidden Life of TREES: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben, Random House, 2016.

And that’s just it–the underlying theme of these five books you might consider is TREES. I can’t seem to learn enough about them. One word of caution, each author has their own take on things, so the best thing to do is to read the book, but then to head out as often as you can and try to come to your own conclusions or at least increase your own sense of wonder.

And now for the books on my list (My guy is the keeper of the list):

Naturally Curious Day by Day: A Photographic Field Guide and Daily Visit to the Forests, Fields, and Wetlands of Eastern North America by Mary Holland, Stackpole Books, 2016

Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast by Ralph Pope, Cornell University Press, 2016.

Do you have any other suggestions for me?

One final thought about books–support your local independent book store as much as you can. Here in western Maine, we are fortunate to have Bridgton Books. Justin and Pam Ward know what we like to read and if they don’t have a particular book we’re looking for, they bend over backwards to get it for us.