Bryophytes, including mosses, are some of the most incredible plants. A forest cloaked in bryophytes looks magical and the variation found amongst these plants is a hidden beauty. Subtle differences in colour and texture are revealed by a close inspection with a hand lens or microscope.
Mosses are not only beautiful but also unique. They are different from other plants, reproducing via spores or plant fragments. They also have no true roots or vascular system, absorbing all their nutrients directly from the atmosphere or rain. Their leaves are usually only one cell thick and so they have no ability to retain water like plants with waxy leaves. Instead, they curl up their leaves and slow their metabolism, waiting for the next rainfall.
To me, mosses represent a total lack of resistance to the whims of the environment, they have a go-with-the-flow approach to life and are a lesson in patience.
Mosses also serve a purpose. They stabilise ecosystems through the regulation of water and nutrient cycling, as well as through the stabilisation of topsoil. They provide an essential habitat for insects, which indirectly supports the wider food chain.
To celebrate and raise awareness for these special plants, we ran an event here at the National Botanic Garden of Wales for our first ever National Moss Day on the 21st October, in collaboration with the British Bryological Society. Conservation of bryophytes in Wales is even more important than in some other areas of the UK, as Wales is home to a large proportion of UK species. With over 130 bryophyte species recorded on site and many more likely to be found, the Botanic Garden was a natural home for this event.
In celebration of everything moss related, the event sported a variety of displays from living plants to dried herbarium specimens dating back to the 1800s, taken from the collections held at the Botanic Garden. Microscopes were available to visitors, opening their eyes to the detail and variation found within the living specimens.
A guided walk was led by bryophyte expert, Sam Bosanquet, in the late morning. Sam gave a general overview of bryophytes before heading out into the flower beds, lawns, woods and fields to show the group of 20+ some fascinating and rare mosses and liverworts. Along the way questions were posed, leading to open discussions and exciting a deep interest in participants.
The event also debuted the moss trail, designed to introduce visitors to some of our bryophyte residents. It features a diverse range of liverworts and mosses, unique in texture and colour. Including a moss bought back from the brink of extinction and another that is crucial to the long-term conservation of internationally rare fungi.
This trail has now become a permanent attraction, so visitors can still enjoy it. Signs are posted around the Garden to let you know when you’re in the right area and a trail map is available at the front desk or in the Great Glasshouse.
A series of blog posts will be coming in the new year to add to the trail so please keep an eye on this space.
We’d like to thank Claire Halpin, Sam Bosanquet, Ray Woods, Charles Hipkin and the British Bryological Society for their contributions to the event.