Tuesday, October 5, 2010

So, Did You Know That Moss is an Ecological Indicator*?

I was walking with my chickfriend (not to be confused with chiksa, even though she is one of those too) the other day, and we happened upon what I will call moss (Is it moss? I don't know; I'm a geologist!).  It was growing on the sidewalk downtown, under a gutter!
Photo courtesy of my chickfriend Sarah Kerver
For reals, where is your soil, Little Moss?  How do you live so bright and happy under a drain spout?  On top of cement, apparently very satisfied with the nutrients provided by the accumulation of dust that deposits underneath you?

So it inspired me to look up info on this plant that reminds me of ... my verdant childhood (Maryland has more moss than Texas.  Our loss).

So what is moss? Here are some basic factoidals.   They are not to be confused with lichens, more on those here.  The neat part is, they get many nutrients from rainwater, not soil.  However, if the rain droplets are falling through polluted air before they reach the moss (I wish the plural for moss was meece!), it will more likely disturb the moss faster than it will other plants.  In fact, moss is a good indicator of air pollution Why? Here is a good quotation from Kevin J. Lyman of the Milkwaukee Public Museum:
Why are mosses and lichens sensitive to air pollution? Since mosses and lichens lack roots, surface absorption of rainfall is the only means of obtaining vital nutrients which are dissolved in rainwater. Lichens and many mosses lack protective surfaces that can selectively block out elements including pollutants that are dissolved in rainwater.
So, it looks like finding happy moss in the middle of downtown ATX is a good sign!  Hopefully this does mean that the air around the moss is clean :-)

Wanna grow your own moss? Try reading here first.  Enjoy!

Ecological indicator: as discussed in another ecological indicator post on a toad, it is a measure of the environment (e.g. the presence/absence of an organism)  that is used to evaluate the health of an ecosystem (more technical definition here).