Moss Resurrection

Just after a rain storm is when I photograph moss. What I love is it’s fuzzy, wet state. Sounds kind of racy!

Dry, brown moss has zero allure; incandescent green moss is a captivating!

Moss dries up when the rain goes away. It shrivels up and often disappears. However, it doesn’t die and the moss is still there. When I was growing up we called this “going dormant.” What scientist have learned recently is that as it dries, moss writes itself a simple DNA code which helps it regrow when the rain returns.

Deep Look is a program by KQED San Francisco that looks in-depth at big science questions. In this ultra short Deep Look video, scientists explain that they are wondering if they can harness the genes of moss (their ability to write a DNA code that directs their resurrection) to help other plants survive for long periods of time without water.

Maybe yes, maybe no.

Mosses are different then other plants.

That means characteristics of moss may or may not be transferable to other kinds of plans, but of course it’s worth a try. Let me explain the differences.

Other plants have roots and carry water through their stems and leaves via tiny tubes. (The scientific term is vascular plants.) Moss doesn’t have this structure of roots or tubing. (Moss is non-vascular.) Moss absorbs water anywhere on the plant through any moss cell; more like a sponge. Moss and water together are a full body experience!

When there is a drought, mosses dry up. Unlike humans and other plants, they stay in a dead-like suspended state for a very long time. What’s novel is these “resurrection plants” spring back to life when water is added.

If you haven’t watched the video, check it out now.

Also, the video will tell you about a symbiotic animal that lives in moss called “rotifer” that I don’t even mention in my write up. Until now.

Wish to read original article, read here: These Resurrection Plants Spring Back to Life in Seconds

You might also be interested in the article of mine about Moss Sex: New Discoveries.

Introducing Moss’ Mate Liverwort

I swear the person who named liverwort wasn’t thinking how they’d handle themselves on the playground. I mean really, “liver” and “wort”! His mother must have hated him!

Liverwort Smoky Mountains National Park
Bow Tie Shape is Liverwort

In the photo above the liverwort is the fleshy looking bow tie with the reptilian texture! The books I’ve been reading often talk about moss and liverworts together because they reproduce in a similar way—via sperm that swim and fertilize eggs in a separate female plants.

Liverwort Smoky Mountains National Park
More Liverwort

Like moss, liverworts appear in most every ecosystem around the world. Liverwort is everywhere except the very driest environments, there are species that live in the desert and there are approx. 9,000 specimens worldwide. Scientists used to consider them Bryophyta like moss but are now placing the liverwort in a different division. The only liverworts I’ve seen so far grow on the sides of rocks in streams and rivers where they are constantly wetted by the splash of water.

Liverwort Smoky Mountains National Park
Brown Tongues are Liverwort (I think)

According to Wikipedia, liverwort means “liver plant” in Old English and was named in ancient times for it’s supposed ability to cure liver disease. However, today it is not used as food or medicine. In fact, we humans don’t use it for anything except as an aquarium plant.

Moss Smoky Mountains National Park
Moss and Violet Plant

All photos in this post are from Smoky Mountains National Park. See more moss from the Smokies in a previous post at Sweet Tennessee Moss in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Great Smoky Mountains
Jumping off Big Rock


Karen Nierlich is a photographer who is working on a fine art book about Moss. As Winter approaches she is thinking where she might travel in N. California to photograph moss. Any suggestions?

Moss Sex: New Discoveries

Well, sex is definitely overstating it a bit! When I and others use the word sex in connection to moss, it’s for fun or sensationalism and eyeballs.

When it comes to moss we are definitely talking about reproduction. I’ve been formulating an article about moss sex for a while but then the  scientific journal Nature came out with new research and new discoveries in July. Glad I waited…


Moss Spores | Tilden Botanical Garden
Moss Spores in Tilden Botanical Garden


Until recently it was believed that moss relied on water and moisture to get it’s sperm to the eggs. Most moss plants are either male or female. The eggs are contained in little pod-like structures called archegoniums and the sperm have to swim with the help of water to the eggs.

Moss grows everywhere, so I don’t see how anyone could truly be concerned that moss fertilization was impossible or seriously flawed. On the other hand, based on what scientists knew about moss reproduction, fertilization seemed like a difficult proposition. Some say the moss sperm are weak and unintelligent, they scarcely live long enough make the distance to the eggs and there is also the challenge of finding the ensconced eggs with no road signs.

The new discovery is that the moss reproductive process looks a great deal like what happens with flowers, pollen and bees. Some cute micro bugs called Springtails as well as mites, act like bees traveling around, in and through the moss and the sperm are able to hitch a ride to the female eggs. And like flowers, female moss emits a chemical or scent that helps the sperm and the Springtails to find it. (Male plants have a scent as well.)

So a couple of other cool moss sex facts:

Moss is one of most ancient plants on earth and evolved from the algae in the oceans. Moss, lichen, liverworts all have sperm. Other plants do not. Scientists consider moss to be caught in a time warp; they evolved early on and then stayed the same.

In addition to water, scents and Springtails, it may be that moss sperms are released from a little pod or case, that catapults them near and far and thus reduces the distance they travel on their own. Seems like you could test this out by videotaping a moss plant continuously. Like a reality show for moss.

Scientists say the new research raises more questions than it answers. Those questions include, what’s in it for the Springtails? What do they get out of their relationship with moss? And is this kind of pollinator relationship more common then we thought? If moss & springtails do it and flowers & bees, anyone else?

What other discoveries lie ahead:)

If you are riveted by moss sex, here are my sources:

Summary of Nature Journal Article: Sex-specific Volatile Compounds Influence Microarthropod-mediated Fertilization of Moss

Droll Article on Better Sex for Moss with an Amazing Springtail Video:
How Mosses Have Sex in Spite of Their Swimming-Challenged Sperm


Karen Nierlich Moss Enthusiast
Moss Enthusiast Karen Nierlich

Karen Nierlich is the author of I Heart Moss (Formerly Journal of a Moss Enthusiastic.) She’s looking forward to the rainy season and the opportunity to take more moss photos. She lives in Albany, CA with her husband, two kids, two cats and a dog.










Lichen or Moss?

Cup Lichen
Cup Lichen

I took this photo 2-3 years ago and thought until this week it was moss.

This enchanting specimen is commonly known as Pixie Cups, for the tiny cups of course. It grows through out the US and Canada and supposedly if you walk in the woods and train your eyes on rotting logs and tree stumps you’ll find it there. It’s scientific name is Cladonia which applies to a whole family of cup shaped lichens. My first lichen ID!

Neon Moss

I found this super bright green neon moss in my neighbor’s front yard. I’ve gone by many a time to check on it and it’s been this color for a few weeks. It’s brightness peaked my curiosity about what kind of moss it is. (There about 8-9,000 kinds of moss worldwide.) In four or more years of taking moss photos, this is the first time I’ve thought about what kind of moss I was looking at.Wood, Pipe & Moss

I’ve done a touch of research and don’t have much idea yet about what kind of moss it is. First I went through the book I have on Mosses, Lichens and Ferns of Northwest North America. I found a west coast moss called Isopterygium elegans that was described as “bright, shiny yellow-green”. However, when I compared the sample to the photo in the book, they looked nothing alike.

Neon Green Moss

I also compared my sample to the very very small # of other moss samples I’ve collected — just 2. Actually, this moss looks just like the moss I’m photographing in cracks in the sidewalk of my Albany, CA neighborhood. Seems likely it’s common to this area and what I’ve liked about the sidewalk moss is how bright even a tiny little strip of it in a crack or crevice it can be after a rain.

Next stop is the botanical garden in Tilden. I want to find out if the mosses I’ve been photographing there are “special specimens.” Are they mosses that have been collected and brought there or did they just happen to grow there? Fine either way, but I want to try to ID them and see if they match or differ from the mosses in my neighborhood.

One more thing — I found this one moss in the book called Bryum argenteum that is small, compact and silver green. It occurs throughout North America and is often found in “cracks of pavements, yards, roofs and building crevices.” Maybe this will be the first moss I learn to ID.

In the Beginning…There was Moss

There are innumerable cool facts about moss.

Moss Facts 1. Moss was the first plant on earth. Algae adapted to life on earth…evolving into lichen, liverworts and moss.

2. Mosses live all over the world. There are over 10,000 species of moss worldwide.

3. Mosses tend to grow in moist places, but some species are drought tolerant and cold tolerant.

4. Mosses don’t have roots.
5. Mosses are anchored to earth, rock, trees by rhizoids which look like tiny roots. The rhizoids are a thread like structure but don’t absorb water or nutrients.
tilden186. Mosses get their nutrients from rainwater, dew, fog and sunlight. They may get nutrients from the top layer of soil, if they are touching it.

7. Mosses don’t produce pollen, seeds or flowers. They reproduce via spores.

8. Mosses grow in a wider range of light exposures than other plants, from bright to dark.
9. Mosses have been used over the centuries as pillow stuffing, wound dressing and diapers. It is not used as a human food to the best of my knowledge.
10. Mosses collectively provide more carbon offset than all the trees in the world.


Nature LoverKaren Nierlich is the author of the book Moss and Lichen and takes photos around the San Francisco Bay Area.

She also curates a collection of forest-inspired jewelry and gifts for nature lovers at