Moss Lady


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I looked around. I swore I heard someone calling out. The silver wattle swayed. The mountain ash towered. No. I must have been dreaming. I was tired. I reckoned I still had enough daylight to do one more site but maybe the three I had done would do. I was stuffed. I shook my head and refocused.

“Helloooo? Moss Lady. Are you there?”

I wasn’t dreaming. The Melbourne Water crew thought it amusing that I would spend my days looking for moss. ‘Moss Lady’. It was novel and easier to say than my real name, so it stuck. I doubt they actually remembered my real name.

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Bryology – are you interested in becoming a ‘budding protonema’?

At the end of my 3rd year BSc. I had no idea that I would be launched into the world of mosses, liverworts and hornworts for my Honours year. I began a project looking at Ecological Vegetation Classes and their ability to be surrogates for other components of biodiversity, i.e. bryophytes. The journey began, and I was hooked.  If you are interested in knowing what that green stuff growing in the pavement cracks is, or curious about the green carpet of cool temperate rainforest, then don’t be scared to find out more. Bryology isn’t as hard as it looks. Consider them as vascular plants at a much smaller scale.

‘Is this a moss, or a liverwort? Or maybe it’s a hornwort?’

These were the words the late Dr George A.M. Scott asked me, after placing what looked like a tiny scrap of green something-or-other on the viewing plate of a dissecting microscope. ‘Liverwort’ I answered. Woohoo! I was right! George named me a ‘budding protonema’ and I am sure he also gave others this name.

If you are used to identifying vascular plants, then you should be used to noting lichens and bryophytes. However, you may/may not be used to separating bryophytes into moss, liverwort and hornwort. So assuming some botanical knowledge follow the diagrams below as a rough guide. For starters, moss and liverwort reproductive structures (sporophytes) are easy to differentiate. But more often than not, these are not present. So look at the stems and leaves, or the absence of them, and look at the roots (rhizoids). You should be able to differentiate your green stuff into moss, liverwort or hornwort using this simple sheet. Continue reading