The sporophyte produces spores that are wind dispersed. Some spores germinate into new gametophyte plants. Gametophyte plants produce sex cells (eggs, sperm) that undergo fertilization to produce another sporophyte. The gametophyte has rhizoids (rootlike structures that attach the plant to its substrate), a simple or branched stem, and small leaves (mostly only one cell thick). The sporophyte has a foot embedding it into the gametophyte and a spore capsule usually borne on a stalk (seta). Some mosses reproduce asexually by gemmae (small groups of cells produced on the gametophyte tissues) or by bulbils (small, deciduous shoots) found in leaf axils. Most mosses can also reproduce by fragmentation, ie, the breaking off of almost any plant part, which then grows into a new plant. Lacking true conducting tissues, mosses mostly absorb water directly through the stem and leaves. Many botanists believe that mosses evolved from primitive vascular plants (ie, those having true conducting tissues). Others argue that they developed from some green algal ancestor. Mosses are thought to be a reduced group, which lost much evolutionary potential by having a dominant gametophyte generation and by lacking specialized conducting tissues (a factor limiting size).
Mosses occur in several growth forms, the more common being turfs, cushions, mats and wefts. Individual plants are usually closely associated and several hundreds may be found in a single turf or cushion. Mosses grow in many places but prefer moist, shady habitats. A few are aquatic (especially water mosses, genus Fontinalis); some grow in very dry places (especially granite mosses, Andreaea). Common growth surfaces include rocks, trees, rotten wood, humus and soil. The presence of copper mosses may indicate high levels of heavy metals in the substrates. Dung mosses grow only on dung or other nitrogen-rich substrates. PEAT mosses (genus Sphagnum) accumulate into deposits that may be several hundred metres thick. Peat is used in horticulture and as fuel. Mosses, an important part of the ground cover in the boreal coniferous forests, are also a conspicuous part of arctic TUNDRA or mountain vegetation. Some mosses are good pioneer colonizers and quickly invade bare or disturbed soil, consolidating it by their dense, turflike growth. There are over 10 000 species worldwide of which about 1250 occur in North America. Individual parts of Canada have fewer species (eg, 466 species in Alberta, 445 in Newfoundland, 430 in Ontario). Mosses thrive in humid climates, and coastal parts of Canada have a greater diversity than the interior parts.
Author GUY R. BRASSARD
Links to Other Sites
The Plant List
Search this online database for information about one million plant species from around the world. Also, click on "major plant groups" at the bottom of the page to browse descriptions of species of interest. Fungi and algae are excluded. From the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in the UK and the Missouri Botanical Garden in the US.
Species at Risk Public Registry
A searchable database of Canadian species at risk. Provides illustrated natural histories of each species as well as information about recovery programs, a glossary, and more. From Environment Canada.
Flora of North America
The FNA website features information on the names, taxonomic relationships, continent-wide distributions, and morphological characteristics of all plants native and naturalized found in North America north of Mexico.
Tree of Life
Explore the diversity of Earth's life forms at the Tree of Life website. Also includes beautiful photographs, an extensive glossary of biological terms, and "Treehouses" for younger readers.