Monday, 14 December 2015

Welcome to the (tiny) jungle

The further down the lens you go, the more life there is to identify and record. This is why with natural history, you can literally never be bored for a day in your life!


Mosses, liverworts and hornworts, aka 'bryophytes', are like exotic jungles and fantastic alien landscapes in miniature, inhabited by equally tiny invertebrates such as mites, spiders and springtails. 

Orthotrichum diaphanum with white hair points on the leaves (photo by Brad Scott)

Bryophytes use photosynthesis to produce their own food, but unlike like normal plants, they lack water and nutrient carrying vessels. Instead, they use diffusion through the surfaces of their simple leaves to absorb minerals and water. This is why they are often very small.  

'Bryophyting'

This doesn't make them any less complicated and confusing as a group. They also have a bizarre 2-part life-cycle, the first stage which produces sexual gametes (the sperm and egg), then a second which produces asexual spores.

Candlesnuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) growing amongst the moss Kindbergia praelonga

The great thing about bryophyte surveying is that you can travel fairly light. Just a hand lens, a good book, and some small envelopes to collect a few specimens...


The only downside to bryophytes, because there is so much to see, it can be quite difficult to get your surveyors further than the car park...


Not everything can be identified to the species level with a hand lens, such as this commonly occurring moss of the genus Fissidens. There are a few different species which can look quite similar...

Fissidens sp.

Fortunately for us, Brad recently treated himself to a new microscope, so he took a few specimens home for further examination. He was able to identify a tiny border of pale cells along the leaf margin all the way to the tip, which makes this Fissidens bryoides.

Fissidens bryoides with fruiting head capsules (these are the spore producing organs)

Kindbergia praelonga

Starting my own herbarium!

Below are a couple of Liverwort species; slightly different to mosses, they tend to have very flattened, overlapping, very damp leaves arranged in rows. The most simple and ancient plants, they were probably the first to colonize land after evolving from aquatic algae.

Metzgeria furcata - a common type of liverwort often found on trees

Eliaz examines another species liverwort growing on an Ash




A few invertebrates could also be found roaming the mossy plains, but I was only quick enough to catch this one...

Common Striped Woodlouse (Philoscia muscorum)


Brad works in digital publishing, but in a very short time (he went on his first Sussex Wildlife Trust workshop in 2010) he has built up a wealth of knowledge of several natural history groups. I feel fortunate to have met Brad; his infectious enthusiasm, along with his great kindness and patience, has inspired many others to get on board with natural history.

Brad's brilliant bryophytes (in macro):

Bryum capillare

Ulota bruchii

A liverwort - Fossombronia species. The tiny little black balls are the fruiting bodies containing microscopic spores. Read more about this wonderful little plant in Brad's blog

Tortula truncata

Hypnum cupressiforme, with longish point on the capsule

Why not take the plunge and immerse yourself in this miniature world:
Sussex Wildlife Turst - Common Woodland Bryophytes

Brad's beautiful blog: Diversions In Natural History

Final species list:
Orthotrichum affine
Orthotrichum diaphanum
Eurhynchium striatum
Fissidens bryoides
Ephemerum minutissimum
Kindbergia praelonga
Atrichum undulatum
Calliergonella cuspidata
Hypnum cupressiforme
Mnium hornum
Hypnum cupressiforme var. resupinatum
Dicranella heteromalla
Frullania dilatata
Metzgeria furcata
Hypnum andoi
Ulota bruchii
Brachythecium rutabulum
Plagiomnium undulatum
Fossombronia wondraczekii
Tortula truncata
Bryum capillare