Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Mostly mosses

A chill must have gripped my readers' hearts when, in my last blog, I mentioned that I was considering checking out the mosses and liverworts of the Byfield area. But putting such thoughts aside I sallied forth a couple of days ago to renew my contact with these much-neglected plants.
Blue Roundhead, Stropharia caerulea?
Flower bed in Byfield. 8 November, 2013

In fact, the first organism to catch my attention as I passed the village hall was not a moss or a liverwort. Not a plant at all but a fungus. With a cap only 20 mm across it would have been easy to overlook it but its pale blue colour, glistening with slime made it stand out among some dark wood chippings. I am not a mycologist and therefore cannot be confident in my identification but, if it is not Blue Roundhead (Stropharia caerulea), it is certainly one of its close relatives.

I pressed on and after an hour or so had recorded half a dozen mosses and liverworts, all very common. On a fence post in the Pocket Park was Common Pincushion Moss (Dicranoweisia cirrata). 

Common Pincushion, Dicranoweisia cirrata. Byfield Pocket Park
8 November, 2013

Each moss species tends to favour a particular substrate - acid rock, alkaline rock, tree bark, bare soil and so on. A weathering fence post such as the one shown is a typical habitat for Common Pincushion.

Adjacent to the Pocket Park is a burial ground. Large areas of the "turf" were composed more of moss than grass, the culprit being Springy Turf-moss, Rhytiadelphus squarrosus. It is indeed very springy and pleasant to walk on - but try telling that to a gardener whose lawns are infested with it. It is a beautiful moss too under a microscope, a feature to which my photograph fails to do justice.

Springy Turf-moss, Rhytiadelphus squarrosus
Byfield burial ground, 8 November, 2013

My final call was the churchyard. (Come to think of it, its the final call for many of us.) Again, very commonplace mosses were present until, on a damp shady section of wall I saw something rather different. "Ah," I said to myself. "That looks like a Pouncewort." (Don't tell porkies. Admit you didn't have a clue!) O.K. other than recognising it as a liverwort, I really didn't know.  Once home, a bit of investigation with Watson (that's E.V.Watson*, not Sherlock Holmes' sidekick) I keyed it out as Lejeunea cavifolia. Latin names are often a bit of a mouthful but the common name is Micheli's Least Pouncewort. For once the Latin name seems simpler. 

Micheli's Least Pouncewort, Lejeunea cavifolia.
On wall, Byfield churchyard. 8, November, 2013

This liverwort is largely confined in Britain to Wales and the west country. It is only known from a handful of sites in Northamptonshire so I was smugly satisfied with my find. 

Once home, I paid attention to the porch over our own front door. It is constructed using a fissile limestone akin to Collyweston Slate and is a congenial home for many mosses. The most abundant of these proved to be Grey-cushioned Grimmia, Grimmia pulvinata, instantly recognisable from the way its setae (fruiting capsules) are curved over to bury their heads among the leaves. Long, whiskery leaf tips give it a greyish appearance.

I finally strolled around my back garden
Overhanging porch with a rich growth of mosses.
Byfield, 8 November, 2013
in search of Common Pocket-moss. It is unusual in appearance, looking like a minute fern. Very common, I have found it in many gardens growing on damp, bare soil and again I was not to be disappointed. The area in which I found it is constantly disturbed by weeding, hoeing and so on. It looks delicate but it is a tough little plant and survives against the odds.

Common Pocket-moss Fissidens taxifolius in my own garden
8 November, 2013



I was uneasy about the 'Pouncewort' so I sent a sample to Rachel Carter, the county bryophyte recorder. She identified it as a considerably commoner but close relative, Porella platyphylla, known as Wall Scalewort. 

* E.V.Watson, "British Mosses and Liverworts". First published in 1955 it is, with numerous revised editions, still perhaps the best introductory book on the subject.

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