The trees, grasses and herbs assert their hegemony over the wild places, but diminutive actors stage a quiet rebellion. Lay botanists refer to them as ‘lower plants’, an unsatisfying epithet for a world of indescribable beauty and complexity. Under scrutiny of the surveyor’s hand lens they reveal their infinite secrets.
A specialist, a bryologist no less, would describe to you a world in miniature, an elfin form of the ecosystems and biomes that make up our planet. Arisen from the primal stages of the Silurian era, a vast collective of green and brown jewels occupying every ecological niche imaginable. They favour the damp places, of which the earth has many.
To most, moss is a singular term, describing the springy carpet that ruins turf and clogs the mower. It is so much more. Many hundreds of species inhabit the dank and dewy spaces, from cityscape to mountaintop and all in between. So many forms, from tiny facsimiles of forests to vast rafts of spongy emerald, each industriously working to produce the spores that give life.
The liverworts and hornworts, the lesser know cousins, are arguably more alien and magnificent. Ranging from the diminutive and dendritic to brown smears on clay that rank among the rarest of our flora, each is a testament to the quiet magnificence of simple life. These are the leafy and thallose relics of ancient times, the blessed meek that inherited the earth long ago.
The bryologist’s world in miniature is there for us to appreciate and enjoy. We just have to open our eyes and find it.