When you go for a walk today, take a moment to marvel at the amazing wonders that we call mosses. Bend down close, even get on your hands and knees, and examine all the shapes, textures, and colors that you will find in a bed of moss. Then ponder their powerful ability to be there year round, staying green throughout even the coldest snaps in winter and quickly rebounding from droughts in summer. Very few living organisms on our planet are this resilient.
Then again, why am I so surprised? These organisms have been around for more than 300 million years. Ancestors of mosses were the first plants to move out of the seas and onto land. They altered the atmosphere by removing CO2 and extracted minerals from rocks with their organic acids – shaping the chemistries of our rivers and oceans. They are sustainability experts, taking very little from the environment but playing a very important role in purifying our water and nurturing other species of plants and animals.
Today, mosses contribute a great deal to the earth by being the first responders to human impacts by instantly colonizing and healing the scars made by human activity. As I walk the trails where I live I notice that the steep trail banks, formed when the flat trails were carved out of sloping forest floors, are now covered with mosses. They were the first to arrive and cover the bare slopes. As I encounter washed out areas of the forest floor, caused by poor stormwater management or erosion along the side of paths, roads, and buildings, I notice the various green hues of the mosses trying to stabilize the earth, attempting to get a foothold to stop erosion, so that other plants can eventually return. Just look – they are everywhere!
I remember when the trees I planted in my backyard got so tall that they shut out the sun and all the grasses beneath them withered away. In very short order, a few mosses took over. They did a beautiful job creating a blanket of green where previously there was only dirt. I recall walking barefoot across this part of the lawn and found it so inviting – a miniature landscape beneath the towering trees – complete with its own micro-fauna and flora.
So on your next walk, take a look around and see where the mosses are in your neighborhood. Let them be. Let the natural cycles restore your backyard. Take a moment to appreciate all that nature does do to restore and stabilize our earth in order to support the current and future needs of its inhabitants.
Take-a-way: There is so much to see on a walk in the woods. Take note of the micro-flora as well as the returning birds and latest blooming plants as you go explore over the next few weeks. There is much that we can learn from the mosses and their role in a healthy community.