I know someone who is fascinated by Bryophytes. Mosses and liverworts. Mainly mosses.
But he likes extreme mosses. Hanging off trees in British Columbia. Freezing mosses in the far north. And recently up to his, well not quite his eyes, in the mires of the New Forest. Where he ruined his mobile phone, bent his glasses and lost his train ticket back to London and his rail card.
So, when Jan suggested I might enjoy participating in the extreme sport by accompanying Phil Budd and few others round a small piece of Southampton Common how could I refuse?
It turns out that that on a warm (well not cold) winter morning it’s a perfectly fine way to spend a couple of hours wandering around in the open air.
I was also mightily pleased that Phil and a couple of others who clearly knew their moss would occasionally declare that they had no idea what they were looking at and small piece would have to accompany them home to be studied in some comfort. I fleetingly imagine myself as a Victorian birder, receiving skins to identify surrounded by reference works. A comfy arm-chair, a glass of fine malt, and magnifying glass – this natural history malarky doesn’t have to hard work.
Withdrawing my foot from the icy puddle which has shaken me from my reverie, I realise it is not quite so warm in the shade, and I will have to concentrate if I want to learn anything at all in my introduction to these tiny jewels that can decorate virtually any damp and shady area.
Bryophytes are the oldest land plants on earth, and have been around for 400 million years or more. Although small, they can be very conspicuous growing as extensive mats in woodland, as cushions on walls, rocks and tree trunks, and as pioneer colonists of disturbed habitats. There are three groups – mosses, liverworts and hornworts.
And, of course, we all know one moss – Sphagnum. Bog moss. We’ve all used it in hanging baskets. Some of you may have even used it as a surgical dressing. With that crumb of knowledge to cling on to, Phil was able to tell us some of the life-cycle of these plants as well as giving us an introduction to the identification features of some of the more common species we found.
All in all a very pleasant and instructive way to spend a morning. Learning about something new, in pleasant company, and all within the city boundary. If you’ve not been on one of our guided walks – you should really give it a try.
And as for the mosses. Well, there apparently over 1,000 species in the UK. So plenty to learn about now my appetite has been whetted.