Rhizomnium glabrescens “Fan Moss” Bryales

Deception Pass State Park, Whidbey Island, WA
August 18, 2014
Robert Niese

These mosses are very common in wet forests throughout the western PNW and appear to be particularly fond of rotting logs and rocks. They are a very leafy species of moss and are often mistaken for vascular plants. The star-shaped structures shown here are the sperm-bearing male gametophytes (full of antheridia). This particular arrangement of leaves allows the sperm to splash out of the antheridia whenever it rains. So next time you’re wandering around a wet PNW forest in the rain, I hope you think about moss sex. Learn more about the biology of these mosses here!

Marchantia polymorpha “Common Liverwort” Marchantiaceae

Lolo National Forest, Bitterroot Mountains, MT
May 10, 2015
Robert Niese

Liverworts are ancient plants that likely resemble their very first ancestors that colonized land 450 million years ago. Liverworts have male and female fruiting bodies (antheridia and archegonia, respectively) that produce either sperm or eggs. These cute little flat-topped umbrellas are the antheridia and are producing sperm. The next time it rains, these sperm will find their way to a fingery-topped umbrella (the archegonia) to fertilize eggs and produce a new plant. These particular liverworts were abundant in the dense understory of a recently burned site along with the Goblet Fungus, Geopyxis carbonaria.

Syntrichia ruralis “Twisted Star Moss” Pottiales

Council Grove State Park, MT
March 16, 2015
Robert Niese

This is perhaps the most common moss in all of Montana. Syntrichia ruralis has a cosmopolitan distribution and occurs in a huge variety of habitat types. Its versatility and hardiness have made it an exceptional colonist of nearly every corner of the globe. 

Aulacomnium androgynum “Little Grove Moss” Bryales

Missoula, MT
May 13, 2014
Robert Niese

This teensy-tiny moss species is readily identified by its adorable, round, lolly-pop structures known as gemmae. Each gemma is actually a mass of cells that will scatter on the wind or rain to produce a new moss (asexual reproduction). In total, this plant was barely more than 1cm tall! Look for A. adrogynum among pixie cup lichens (Cladonia) on rotting logs in moist-dry coniferous forests here in the Northwest. (ID courtesy of Mandy Slate)

Cladonia sp. “Pixie Cup Lichen”

Olympic National Park, WA
June 6, 2013
Robert Niese

This easily recognizable lichen genus is one of my favorites. The tall cup-like structures for which the group is named are actually modified structures that release spores. Other members of the genus, such as Cladonia cristatella, the British Soldier Lichens, produce a bright red cap on each tall stem instead of a shallow cup.