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natural history: mosses

Blue Tier mosses
Random image of Blue Tier mosses

The prevalent greenish growth on the ground as well as on trees and fallen logs in the forest comprise of mosses and liverworts, often indistinguishable from each other to the naked eye. Both groups may be found growing on the ground, on rocks or on living or dead trees, often occupying the same niche.

Apart from the thallose liverworts which look quite distinct, one simple guide is that mosses generally (but not always) have their leaves arranged spirally along a stem and the leaves have a mid-vein ('costa'), but liverworts usually have two or more rows of leaves and lack the central vein. However there are exceptions to these and we need to look at other characteristics help determine to which group a specimen belongs.

moss antheridia

The most obvious form of dispersal is through spores contained in the capsule. Under suitable conditions these develop into masses of filamentous protonema which give rise to buds that grow to the typical moss we are familiar with. As in most other life forms mosses are capable of sexual reproduction - image on right is of antheridia which contain the motile sperm. Rain drops facilitate dispersal to receptive female plants containing the ovary (archegoina) but minute animal life living on these plants no doubt have a large role in this.

Pohlia flexuosa gemma

However mosses are also capable of vegetative reproduction from tissue fragments as well as from 'gemmae' - minute propagules produced in vast numbers on the entire leaf, leaf tip, leaf axil or on the rhizoids or costa. On the left we have a gemma of Pohlia flexousa. For this species (and several others) sexual reproduction is unknown in Tasmania, and clonal reproduction is the only way it is able to multiply.

We begin with some of the more common species. Where available we have provided closeups of capsules and leaf shape, and hope to do this for all the species listed. Cell details are usually from mid-leaf or higher unless otherwise noted. There ought to be sufficient detail in the inserts for recognition at least to the generic level. Beyond that we recommend using one of the books below.

Latest additions: Hampeella alaris | Bucklandiella chlorocarpa | Bucklandiella didyma | 'Grimmia 140125B' |

We have a page of thumbnails (170KB)


'?' denotes some uncertainity in keying out specimens
'*' denotes specimen was collect outside the Blue Tier

- Buck, W.R., Vitt, D.H. & Malcolm, W.M., Key to the genera of Australian Mosses is the standard work on the subject but as the title suggests, does not descend to specific level (ISBN 0 642 568197); the book is out of print but ANBG has made it available online.
- Flora of Australia Volume 51 (Mosses 1). Canberra & Melbourne: ABRS and CSIRO Publishing (2006) (ISBN 0 643 09240 4) is the first of a projected three volume series on Australian mosses; includes keys to many genera and species
- Malcolm, W. & Malcolm, N. The Mosses of Tasmania on CDRom provides the key in the form of .pdf pages; beautifully illustrated!
- Malcolm, W. & Malcolm, N. Mosses and Other Bryophytes, An Illustrated Glossary, 2nd Edition, Micro-Optics Press, 2006, (ISBN 0958222479) describes and illustrates the terminology used in bryology; we have found this indispensable keying out specimens. An alternative is provided by Leica Chavoutier online (see below)
- Meagher, D, & Fuhrer, B., A Field Guide to the Mosses and Allied Plants of Southern Australia, Flora of Australia Supplementary Series, Number 20 - Australian Biological Resources Study/The Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, 2003; (ISBN 0 642 56828 6)
- Ochyra, R., et al, The Illustrated Moss Flora of Antarctica, Cambrige University Press, 2008 (ISBN 978-0-521-81402-7) is a lavishly illustrated tome which includes some mosses found in Tasmania
- Scott, G.A.M. & Stone, I.G., The Mosses of Southern Australia, Academic Press, London, 1976 (ISBN 0 12 633850 7) is the classic work on the subject; sadly out of print
- Seppelt, R., The Moss Flora of Macquarie Island, Australian Antartic Division, 2004. (ISBN 1 876934 077) has detailed information and many line drawings of mosses found in Tasmania
- Seppelt, R., Jarman, S.J. and Cave, L.H. , An Illustrated Catalogue of Tasmanian Mosses, Parts 1, 2, 3 & 4 Tasmanian Herbarium, Hobart, 2013

- ANBG provides keys to genera as well as for most families/genera/species together with illustrations.
- Flora of New Zealand provides a series of monographs on moss families.
- Journal of the Hattori Botanical Laboratory Vol 1-20 are now available for download (early issues are in Japanese).
- Chavoutier, L., Bryophytes, Illustrated Glossary is available online (pdf file 18.9 MB)
- University of Tasmania has a section on mosses
- Tree of Life has an introduction together with a diagram of the moss life cycle.
- Glime, Janice M., 2007 Bryophyte Ecology, 5 volumes are available online in the form of .pdf files.
- University of British Columbia provides a glossary of some terms commonly used in describing mosses
- The largest collection of moss images on the web (superb photography by Michael Lueth, mainly of European mosses)

- University of California (Berkeley) has a series of youtube videos on bryophyte biology - highly recommended!

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