Aroused soap-opera scientists and the Stanford screw-moss

In the One Big Happy from June 4th, Ruthie’s grandmother, absorbed in the soap-opera romance of scientists Lars and Frieda in their lab, is caught offguard by the turn of their encounter to the frankly carnal and tries to protect Ruthie from, as we say, “adult themes”:


In attempting to keep Ruthie from one show, her grandmother provides her with another. But of course what caught my attention was the Hennediella stanfordensis in Cornwall.

From the eFloras: Flora of North America site about Hennediella stanfordensis (syn. Tortula stanfordensisHyophila stanfordensis) [Stanford screw-moss, Stanford tortula moss], family Pottiaceae [the screw-moss presumably named after someone named Hennedy, and having some connection to Stanford, though I have no real information on either count]:

(#2) Stanford screw-moss (any association with adult themes is presumably fortuitous)

Soil, among grasses, drainage ditches, fields; low to moderate elevations (100-300 m); Calif.; Mexico (Guerrero); Europe; Australia.

Since the description of Hennediella stanfordensis, this mundivagant [‘wandering over the world’] species has engendered a flurry of publications on its human-oriented distribution, its discovery in Europe, and the taxonomic significance of the eperistomate sporophyte

(From NOAD on those last two technical terms:

noun peristomeBotany a fringe of small projections around the mouth of a capsule in mosses and certain fungi. [hence, apparently: adj. peristomate(of a moss or moss capsule) ‘having a peristome’; and eperistomate‘lacking a peristome’]

noun sporophyteBotany (in the life cycle of plants with alternating generations) the asexual and usually diploid phase, producing spores from which the gametophyte arises. It is the dominant form in vascular plants, e.g. the frond of a fern.)

On the broad issue of the taxonomics of the genus, from Wikipedia:

The delimitation of genus Tortula [‘twisted, screw-like’] is problematic and was subject to a number of alterations in the past. Some species that were earlier placed under Desmatodon, Phascum and Pottia have been made part of genus Tortula, while other species that had been formerly placed in this genus became part of Hennediella, Microbryum and Syntrichia. The rearrangement of the genus followed new studies in gametophyte characteristics [presumably having to do with those peristomes]

Then on the family [#82 in my running inventory], new to this blog, which has pretty much disregarded mosses and ferns:

The Pottiaceae are a family of mosses. They form the most numerous moss family known, containing nearly 1500 species or more than 10% of the 10,000 to 15,000 moss species known.

As for mosses in Cornwall, they abound there: the place is damp and  rainy, with rocky outcrops and forests everywhere — a prime location for mosses (and ferns):

(#3) Moss covered woodland with path in Trewidden garden Cornwall

And on mosses in general, from Wikipedia:

Mosses are small flowerless plants [in the division Bryophyta] that typically grow in dense green clumps or mats, often in damp or shady locations. The individual plants are usually composed of simple leaves that are generally only one cell thick, attached to a stem that may be branched or unbranched and has only a limited role in conducting water and nutrients. Although some species have conducting tissues, these are generally poorly developed and structurally different from similar tissue found in vascular plants. Mosses do not have seeds and after fertilisation develop sporophytes with unbranched stalks topped with single capsules containing spores.

… Moss is often considered a weed in grass lawns, but is deliberately encouraged to grow under aesthetic principles exemplified by Japanese gardening. In old temple gardens, moss can carpet a forest scene. Moss is thought to add a sense of calm, age, and stillness to a garden scene. Moss is also used in bonsai to cover the soil and enhance the impression of age.

… In the cool cloudy damp Pacific Northwest, moss is sometimes allowed to grow naturally as a lawn substitute, one that needs little or no mowing, fertilizing or watering. In this case, grass is considered to be the weed. Landscapers in the Seattle area sometimes collect boulders and downed logs growing mosses for installation in gardens and landscapes. Woodland gardens in many parts of the world can include a carpet of natural mosses. The Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, Washington State, is famous for its moss garden. The moss garden was created by removing shrubby underbrush and herbaceous groundcovers, thinning trees, and allowing mosses to fill in naturally.

(#4) The Moss Garden at the Bloedel Reserve

… A passing fad for moss-collecting in the late 19th century led to the establishment of mosseries in many British and American gardens. The mossery is typically constructed out of slatted wood, with a flat roof, open to the north side (maintaining shade). Samples of moss were installed in the cracks between wood slats. The whole mossery would then be regularly moistened to maintain growth.

The useful and (relatively) transparent word mossery ‘a place where mosses are grown’ is in the OED only as obsolete / rare. OED3 (Dec. 2002) has two cites:

1872 Overland Monthly July 86 Only small, sunless nooks were kept for mosseries and ferneries.

1895 Scotsman 25 Oct. 6/6 Visiting the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow the other day, I observed in the ‘mossery’..a peculiar-looking selaginella.

The corresponding term fernery is attested since 1840 and is still in use. (It’s in NOAD as well as the OED.)

Finally, on ferns, from Wikipedia:

A fern is a member of a group of vascular plants that reproduce via spores and have neither seeds nor flowers. They differ from mosses by being vascular, i.e., having specialized tissues that conduct water and nutrients, in having branched stems and in having life cycles in which the sporophyte is the dominant phase. Like other vascular plants, ferns have complex leaves called megaphylls, that are more complex than the microphylls of clubmosses. Most ferns are leptosporangiate ferns, sometimes referred to as true ferns. They produce coiled fiddleheads that uncoil and expand into fronds. The group includes about 10,560 known extant species.

I have lots of reference works on plants, but they’re almost all about garden flowers or wildflowers, so they don’t cover mosses and have only a bit to say about ferns.


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