Moss: City Green

Posted by on Jan 8, 2013 in adaptations, leaves, plant parts, Uncategorized, Unmowed Blog, winter | 0 comments

mural 023I’ve lived within spitting distance of Albany NY for most of my life—and yet it’s a place I never go. Oh, I might go to the outskirts, the mall or the movie theater, but I rarely venture into the city itself. So the other day I decided to be a tourist and explore a bit.

There are some beautiful old brownstones, and interesting shops and restaurants (a terrific Jamaican restaurant well named the Hot Spot). But as usual, I was on the lookout for plants.

However, the prospects were dim for greenery—we’ve had over a foot of snow and the day I picked for my stroll was about 10 degrees with a wind chill in negative numbers. Other than the battered remnants of holiday décor, there wasn’t any green to be seen.

Except here.

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Close-up, this could be a rock alongside a stream or in a shady forest, cool and green on a summer’s day.

Interesting question is how the moss got here on this urban wall to begin with. Moss spreads by spores that are smaller than specks of dust, almost microscopic. The spores float on the wind and can travel for mind-boggling distances, so I suppose a random spore landed in a crevice of the stonework. Moss is a slow, slow grower, and this little patch has probably been here for years, spreading out leaf by tiny leaf.

mural 024In spite of the frigid temperature, the moss is bright green, its usual soft and fuzzy self, just like in July. It’s not frozen solid. It’s still happily photosynthesizing. Since mosses have no roots, they can’t store up a winter’s worth of resources. They continuously make food, like a rabbit that doesn’t hibernate and has to eat every day.

There’s a down side to being evergreen, of course. If temperatures get too low the leaves could freeze solid and die. Dryness is the other big threat to evergreen plants—dessication in the cold dry air of winter. Mosses tend to get around this problem by favoring microhabitats that are shaded and out of the wind, like this nice cozy stone wall.

I’ll have to come back next winter and see if the moss patch is still here. Hope no one will decide to tidy up the stonework…


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