Missouri Mosses

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Published on: Aug. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

is also used to monitor air pollution.

Although dried mosses are used for medicinal purposes by herbalists, fresh moss generally has an unpleasant taste. It's often described as similar to raw green beans. Other species are reported to have a peppery taste, and one species of moss has been described as overly sweet.

Most mosses are so small that people generally can't tell them apart from liverworts, algae, lichens and very small flowering plants. What has become known as reindeer moss, for example, is actually a lichen. Spanish "moss" isn't a moss either. It is a relative of the pineapple and bears tiny flowers each year.

Mosses are small plants, but they do not produce flowers or seeds. Instead, they reproduce asexually by fragmentation of plant parts and by spores produced in a capsule at the end of a short stalk called a seta. Their stems, leaves and rootlike structures distinguish them on land from lichens, and in water from the branching filaments of algae, which lack leaflike structures.

Mosses contain chlorophyll, which enables them to produce their own food, but they do not have true roots or any way to transport water and minerals from the soil to the leaves, where photosynthesis occurs. The leaves are often only one cell thick and absorb water and minerals directly into the chlorophyll-containing cells. This arrangement seems to leave mosses vulnerable to desiccation when there is no moisture available, but most species have developed the ability to tolerate periods of dehydration.

Many mosses found in Missouri and particularly in the Ozarks are also found in southern Appalachia, southern Mexico and eastern Asia. These species are separated today because of geological events, such as rising sea levels and glaciations, that eliminated suitable habitat between these areas.

During the period when glaciers were expanding and retreating, some arctic-boreal species migrated to southern Missouri. A few of these northern plants were able to remain behind in moist, cool habitats such as the north-facing slopes and bluffs along the Jacks Fork River in Shannon County. During dry and warm interglacial periods, western species colonized Missouri and still remain today.

The color of Missouri's approximately 306 species of mosses varies from black and brownish greens to yellow, golden and whitish green.

Our mosses range in height from extremely tiny to almost four inches tall.

Missouri's mosses are divided into three major categories, based on their growth patterns. Pleurocarps grow parallel to the ground, and their branching

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