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Lichens and Mosses

Lichens are foundational organisms who help set the stage for plants to grow.  According to M. Sheldrake in Entangled Life, science is showing that lichens helped prepare the earth for the plants that we see today.  Lichens are made up of alga, fungi, and bacteria.  These beings come together to share resources when they can’t find what they need individually. (1) The type of lichen created depends on the type of alga, fungi, and bacteria that come together as well as the environment and resources available.  The fungi and algae create an acidic mixture that pits the surface they are on.  Once the pit is deep enough, the lichen inserts minute threads into them.  These threads help the lichens to stay where they are. (2) Lichens absorb nutrients from the air but this also makes them vulnerable to pollution. Lichens can be found in most environments around the world.  There are between 15,000 and 20,000 different species of lichens.  The best way to identify the species is with a microscope.

True mosses are not vascular (so Club and Sphagnum Mosses aren’t really  mosses), they do not have flowers, roots, and seeds. Belonging to the phylum Bryophyta, true mosses are related to hornworts and liverworts and are plants at their most simple form.  There are over 22,000 species, each with their own growing niche.(3)  With no stems to hold them up, mosses tend to be more horizontal. Only where moisture is prevalent do mosses get “bigger”.  They can live almost anywhere other plants cannot. Look at rocks.  They are hard and any pores are usually minute, but moss can take hold, thrive, and break down the rock providing a foot hold for vascular plants.  Mosses rely primarily on the nutrients that come with rain water or dew.  In times of drought, mosses will dry up.  However, once moisture returns the plant is able to bring itself back.(3)  When moss is collected in the woods, it doesn’t grow back like some vascular plants.  Their reproduction is one of chance and can take years to grow.  Forests with no mosses are forests that are very ill.(3)  Again, as mosses each have their own niche, collecting it to put in a vase or jar means you are really setting up that plant to fail.  

Often you can find lichens and mosses near each other in so many different environments.  They may not be a showy plant, but their strength, color, shape, texture, and tenacity earn them a second look.


  1.  Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake

  2. Botany in a Day by Thomas J. Elpel

  3. Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer

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