In the winter, when we finally get some rain, the mosses explode in our patio. It happens every year. They are beautiful little creatures that deserve some recognition; how is it that such an ancient, unsophisticated plant returns in this spot year after year?
Mosses are Bryophytes - land plants that have no vascular system, which means they have no xylem and phloem conducting water and nutrients around the plant tissues. The other difference is in the way they reproduce - mosses reproduce by spores rather than seed, therefore, they produce no flowers. They also don’t grow true roots; rather, they have rhizoids, little root-like hairs that anchor the plant and conduct water.
There are nearly 25,000 named species of bryophytes. Only ferns and flowering plants have more species. They also exist on all continents, including Antartica. Bryophytes are ancient, one of our earliest known plants, and have a long evolutionary history that originates with algae. They do photosynthesize nutrients and have evolved to live in many habitats.
I’m speculating that the moss returns to our patio cracks because it has released enough spores in that space to grow new plants each year, similar to a persistent seedbank. The environment is absolutely right; the deep cracks protect the spores (and possibly the rhizoids) over the hot summer, and enough moisture lives there, even in the hottest months, to keep everything in a sort of ‘holding’ pattern. Then the rains come, the temperatures drop, and the moss flourishes, to repeat the cycle.
It’s really quite a lovely plant and softens the hard lines of the patio with it’s feathery sporophytes (those little white things that look like flowers on top). I can’t believe I used to kill it every winter. There is an insidious and effective marketing campaign to eradicate anything that grows out of place, or at least what we consider out of place, and I used to buy into that. It takes a conscious shift to realize that nature provides a gracious covering over almost any surface; it’s designed to be that way, and there’s a purpose for it. Because it photosynthesizes, if nothing else, it’s providing oxygen for us to breathe. But I have come to welcome the winter moss and enjoy it’s bright green presence in the grey months.
Last night, as Kate and I were driving to an appointment right after sunset, we saw this in the sky. From where we were, it was much bigger, and the sky was much darker - it looked like a golden lasso in the night sky, very close to us indeed. Kate thought it was just a trick of clouds and light, but I wondered … and then later that night, the question was answered for me. It was the smoky trail of a meteor which had struck about 30 miles up in space over the Pacific ocean, burning into our atmosphere. This is something I never even considered and I think it’s quite magical. Scott Manley, one of our favorite space-and-science-guys, made a YouTube video about it which I have copied below. Just one more reminder that we are living in a universe that contains infinite mystery.