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The Bryophyta or mosses, unlike the liverworts, are present in most terrestrial habitats (even deserts) and may sometimes be the dominant plant life.

As with the liverworts the plant that we commonly see is the gametophyte. It shows the beginnings of differentiation of stem and leaves - but no roots. Mosses may have rhizoids and these may be multicellular but they do little more than hold the plant down.

The stem shows some internal differentiation into hydroids and leptoids which are like xylem and phloem of higher plants but very simply organized with no connection to leaves or branching stems.

The leaves are mostly one cell thick; sometimes the midrib is several cells thick but this does not contain conducting tissue so it is not equivalent to the vein of a leaf.

Male and female gametophytes look identical except when they produce reproductive structures.

The male plant produces clusters of antheridia which contain thousands of ciliate sperm.

The female produces archegonia, each containing a single egg.

Fertilization is dependent on water - sperm are splashed or swim to the archegonia. The zygote grows into the diploid sporophyte which remains attached to the female gametophyte It is a leafless stem with a seta or foot at one end, drawing nutrients from the gametophyte. At the other end is a capsule in which meiosis occurs to form spores.

The archegonium grows around the developing sporophyte for a while but becomes separated from the gametophyte and is carried up to form a cap or calyptra over the sporangium. Curiously, the sporangia of some mosses have stomata much like those on the leaves of vascular plants.

Immature moss capsules with calyptra

The calyptra is lost when the sporangium is mature as is the operculum or lid on the end of the capsule.

Underneath the operculum there are often peristome teeth which open under dry conditions and control spore release A spore germinates to produce a filamentous protonema which sooner or later produces buds that grow into new gametophytes.

Ecology of mosses
Mosses require abundant water for growth and reproduction. They can tolerate dry spells by drying out or,in the case of mosses like Sphagnum, by holding huge amounts of water in dead cells in the leaves.

They look pretty lowly and insignificant, but have become dominant in particular habitats and Sphagnum itself is said to occupy 1% of the earth's surface (half the area of the USA). Because of its ability to soak up blood and its relative freedom from bacterial contamination Sphagnum was used in dressings. The moss itself is used in some horticultural media and it is an important source of peat.

This is a sign that I saw at a rest stop on I-90 in Wisconsin.

Polytrichum commune one of the larger mosses with mature sporophytes

If you have tried to grow a lawn in a shady location you have probably been troubled by mosses as weeds. Like many lower organisms they are very sensitive to copper salts and can be controlled in this way. On the other hand mosses are green and better adapted to shade than most grasses, so maybe we should accept them in this situation.


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Copyright © Michael Knee
The Ohio State University
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