If You Go Down To The Woods Today - Volume 1 Issue 3

The small things in life sometimes get missed, certainly if there are towering behemoths to distract you.  This week I would like to invite you to take notice of a plant with no roots, is millions of years old, has over 20,000 species, is protected by The Law. I’m talking about moss.

A Mossy Woodland Habitat

The moss that has made its home on the trunk of the old oak above is the same as mosses that were growing millions of years ago. Some may call it a primitive plant, but I believe that Mother Nature has decided that moss have reached the pinnacle of its evolving journey and have left it be. What we end up with is a fascinating and very important plant.

They don’t have true roots, stems or leaves.This amazing plant collects its nutrients by absorbing water across its entire surface. So, this means that moss likes to make its home in damp places.

It’s very sensitive to light which is why a very rudimentary sun compass can be utilised if you are lost without any decent equipment. Up here in the Northern hemisphere moss likes to grow on the North side of trees, boulders and the like.  It's where the least light hits and where the damp conditions that moss loves will generally be in a state of equilibrium.

Moss, due to it being damp, even on the sunniest of days, hosts colonies of different invertebrates.  Many insects lay their eggs within the safe soft space that moss provides.  This is easy food for other insects to gather, which in turn allows other creatures to hunt them and so, just like that a healthy ecosystem has sprung up.  

Moss is protected by law; Schedule 8 of The Wildlife and Countryside Act 198 and there are 28 species within the act that are illegal to pick, even if you have the landowner’s permission.  Pretty hefty stuff for such an overlooked plant.

Where I work is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, (SSSI).  Moss loves to grow on the stumps, stools and branches of the trees I am coppicing.  For this reason, you will see the coppice stools are ever-so slightly higher than other coppiced areas.  I’m protecting moss’s habitat.

Just one other thing to think about.  Sphagnum moss.  This humble plant has helped humans throughout our relatively short time on planet earth.  From being used as a sterile nappy liner, to dressing wounds as far back as the Bronze Age sphagnum has been sought out and used by humans.  I have even drunk water from sphagnum; simply pick, squeeze and drink.  The antiseptic nature of the plant let me know it was safe. 

So, The Next Time You Are Out And About…

…Take your time to look around you.  Are there any moss colonies nearby?  Can you tell where the points of the compass are?  Can you see the thriving life that surrounds mossy area?

Moss.  Amazing isn’t it?

Until next time.