It's said that a rolling stone gathers no moss. Wandering along the trails of Pimmit Run Stream Valley Park in late January, this is clearly not an issue here. During the still of the winter, when it may seem that not much is happening on the forest floor, a vibrant ecosystem is at work, revealing the persistence of life in the valley. This is the time of year when the bryophytes (mosses, liverworts, and hormworts) and lichens shine. If one takes a close look, the muted, rustic colors of these oft-overlooked ground-huggers provide design inspiration. Bryphytes and lichens are also unique for being relatively cosmopolitan -- many species are observed around the world, so native to many continents.
Here come the Bryophytes
Bryophytes include small, non-vascular plants such as mosses, liverworts, and hornworts. The specimen pictured below, which appears to be a liverwort from the genus Lophocolea, is my hands down favorite from the stream valley this month because of its delicate structure and muted tones. Liverworts are distinguished from mosses by their leaf arrangement. I just love the soft colors and the way it hugs the decaying wood. I'm glad its here.
There is no lack of mosses in the stream valley. Some mosses look like miniature stars on close inspection. Here we have Common Haircap Moss (Polytrichum) which pops up frequently on the forest floor.
Some mosses get shaggy and hang off of trees, branches, stream edges, and logs. This appears to be Cord Glaze Moss (Entodon seductrix).
Many mosses flower, but some are more noticeable than others. This appears to be Redshank Moss (Ceratodon purpureus) or Copper Wire Moss (Pohlia nutans), a standout due to its delicate red flower shoots.
Some mosses look like tiny ferns. Close-up, this mixture of Delicate Fern Moss (Thuidium delicatulum) and Common Haircap Moss (Polystichum) looks like a tiny forest.
Some mosses grow at the base of trees; these are poodle mosses on Tulip Poplar and American Beech.
And then, for the homebodies, there is Pincushion Moss (Leucobryum glacum). They are thicker, have a dome shape, and can be lighter in color. Look a bit like a sea urchin.
Lastly, some mosses are content to act like carpet, covering the forest floor, ground level logs, and rocks.
And then there are the lichens and mushrooms. There is a lot of lichen in the stream valley and that is a good sign. Unlike mosses, lichens are not plants – they are actually partnerships between a fungus and a host (or two). They are classified in the Kingdom Fungi. The lichen fungus provides a protection benefit to its partner), gaining nutrients in return. Lichens have been described as small ecosystems. They habitat many different types of sites and have a remarkable ability to quickly absorb and retain water, making it possible for them to survive drought and live on exposed surfaces in harsh conditions. They grow very slowly and can live for hundreds of years.
Lichens come in various shapes: leafy-like lichens, crusty-like lichens, hairy lichen, miniature shrub-like lichens, and scaly lichens made of numerous small rounded lobes. They also can absorb pollution, reflect changes in air quality, and fix nitrogen.
Some lichen are edible! They also provide value to wildlife and are a preferred nest building material for the ruby-throated hummingbirds and northern flying squirrels. Here's what I saw this month.
This is Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor), a pretty common fungi that can be seen growing on logs, tree trunks, and other surfaces in the woods. Reportedly it can be used to make tea (I have not tried it).
This one is pretty unique -- looking like a series of shelves on the decaying log. It looks to be White Cheese Polypore (Tyromyces chioneus) because, well, its white and has a cheesy consistency.
The specimen below is very cool, but a bit of a mystery. It could be a False Turkey Tail (Stereum ostrea). I just love the color, the way it grows and the way it is framed by the leaves.
This one is special -- Mossy Maze Polypore (Cerrena unicolor). It's like a Turkey Tail, but the green on top is algae and this fungus enjoys an interesting relationship with two wasp species.
The lichen below is most likely Crowded Parchment (Stereum complicatum) which sometimes fuses together as shown here.
And here we have the relatively ubiquitous Rough Speckled Shield Lichen (Punctelia rudecta), notable for its beautiful muted green color.
Lastly, this one is a mystery, observed in a vernal pool. Possible the cause of the orange tint seen previously, this one could be observed close up and appears to be a mass of, well, something.
That's it for the life in the forest in January!