Friday, January 30, 2009
Anyone who has been for a walk in the woods, even when they are knee-deep in snow, has probably seen Frullania. It is begging to be noticed. It grows on tree trunks and much of it is
very conveniently located at eye level. It’s small; it doesn’t shout; but it’s pretty and worth getting to know by name.
Name: Frullania is the genus name of this plant and I don’t know of a common name for it. It is a liverwort, a very old plant in the evolutionary scheme of things. There are over 8,000 species of liverworts worldwide. The word ‘wort’ comes from the Old English word ‘wyrt’ which means a plant or herb. These days you seldom find it used alone but quite often in combination with another name – as in Lungwort, Swallow-wort or St. John’s Wort.
Liverworts in general: Liverworts have long been lumped together with mosses into a group known as the Bryophytes. This is changing but we can’t get away from the fact that many a moss still looks a lot like a liverwort. Both mosses and liverworts are simple plants. They are not vascular (i.e. there are no cells specialized for the transport of food or water), and they produce spores instead of flowers and seeds. There are two main types of liverwort: those with a long flat ribbon-like form which are easy to distinguish from a moss; and the other so-called “leafy” liverworts. Our friend the Frullania is one of the leafy variety. These require a closer look to differentiate them from mosses. The tiny ‘leaves’ don’t have a midrib while
most moss leaves do, and the leaves are arranged in two rows on either side of the stem often with a third row of smaller leaves on the underside. Also, liverwort leaves are frequently lobed while moss leaves seldom are. The liverwort spore capsule is usually a black slender egg-shaped object carried on a white or translucent stalk. It splits into four equal parts to release its spores all at once and then dies away. Moss spore capsules are longer lasting; they show much more variety; they shed their spores gradually.
Distinguishing characteristics: Frullania is one of the original tree-huggers. It grows on tree trunks often in a feathery star-like pattern. If the bark is smooth and there is not a lot of competition from mosses and lichens, the Frullania will sometimes radiate out in an almost symmetrical design, a bit like a giant snowflake. The color is dark green. On very cold or dry days it appears almost black. The leaves are arranged in two opposite rows along the stem. They are round and very tiny and the width of both stem and leaves together is less than 1mm. Despite the small size it is easy to spot the dark color and shape of the plant on light-colored smooth-barked trees.
Frou frou: Frullania is fine and feathery but emphatically not frou frou. (Forgive the alliteration. I have been bitten by the old English poetry bug and become infected.) Frullania is a tough little plant. It is able to revive after drying up and can grow in places not suitable for other liverworts most of which require damp habitats.
Sources: Introduction to New England Bryophytes, Mary Lincoln; Illustrated Guide to Some Hornworts, Liverworts and Mosses of Eastern Canada, Robert R. Ireland and Gilda Bellolio-Trucco.
Last week Steve Tierney had a visit from an Eastern Screech Owl. Steve noticed that something had triggered the motion detector on the outdoor spotlights. When he investigated he found the owl sitting on a window ledge. Despite the bright light it stayed for about 15 minutes. See more on the Eastern Screech Owl in the online Mosquito archive March 7, 2008.
With the recent snow being so soft, tracks left by animals were not showing their typical distinct characteristics. Susan Emmons was puzzled by some odd tracks in her yard which led
to a shrub where a large area had been dug out. All came clear when the critter, an Opossum, made a mid-day appearance. After browsing under the bird feeder he hunkered down in a window well (shown left) and at night-fall he pulled the leaves completely over his head. He slept all night and all day, then browsed under the feeder and headed off, keeping with his reputation for not staying in one place long. His five nights around the Emmons house seem to have been enough. See more on the Opossum in the online Mosquito archive May 26, 2006.
© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito