LARRY WEBER - Mosses show up on the forest floorThe month of October gave us its massive changes. Not only did we witness the fascinating foliage show early in the month, but we watched as wind and rain brought down the leaves by the middle of the month. The deciduous tree colors were followed by an encore of yellow-gold from the tamaracks of the swamps. And by the time this fall month exited, we were among bare trees.
By: Larry Weber, for the Budgeteer
The month of October gave us its massive changes. Not only did we witness the fascinating foliage show early in the month, but we watched as wind and rain brought down the leaves by the middle of the month. The deciduous tree colors were followed by an encore of yellow-gold from the tamaracks of the swamps. And by the time this fall month exited, we were among bare trees. (It is also interesting to note the temperature fluctuations from early to late. While the average reading for the first half was more than ten degrees above normal, the second half recorded less than the norm.)
Now, in November, we are most likely going to see similar changes. What begins as open waters of our ponds, swamps and lakes will become ice-coated later. Usually the freeze-up happens shortly after mid-month. And the forest floor that now is covered with dead leaves that dropped recently is destined to be wearing the white cold blanket of snow soon. But early in November, we seldom have lasting snow cover. The ground is still too warm and any snowfalls that we do get will be temporary.
I refer to this period of time after the leaf drop and before the snow cover as AutWin. And I find that it is a delightful time. Lasting about a month to six weeks, this is the window that allows us to see much of the plant life in the woods that is still green. On a walk now, we can see far among the trees, and we note that what appears to be a bleak, empty and bland scene actually has much greening. Most of the ferns living beneath the canopy have turned brown for the season, but I see two regularly that still hold green fronds: the wood fern on the forest floor and the rock cap fern clinging to rocks and cliffs. Their cousin, the clubmosses (often called princess pines or lycopodium) abound here, and it is under these conditions that we realize how common these six-inch green growths are in the forest. A few flowering plants such as wintergreen (often with red berries) and hepatica are visible now, too. But the most common green plant now in the woods is that of the lowly mosses.
The name “moss” is often applied to a whole host of small green plants. Sometimes aquatic algae is referred to as “moss.” Even though there are true mosses that live in water, we don’t see them often. What we do see in abundance is the green growths at the bases of trees, and many of us have been told to look for it on the north side of trees. Getting out and taking a walk now reveals that, yes, moss is growing at the base of trees on the north side, but on other sides as well. Besides on tree trunks, it is easy to find mosses now covering downed logs (wet rotting logs seem to have a thicker growth than newly fallen logs) and rocks, and very often on the ground.
Mosses are true plants and though all the kinds may appear to be alike, a closer look shows quite a variety. Some creep low and branch. Others stand tall with no offshoots. The small plants are covered with minute green leaves. These diminutive greens have been here all summer, but with all the rest of the foliage, we seldom see them. With a close inspection, I see that some mosses hold the capsules with ripe spores from another season of growth. These cells will disperse in the autumn breezes. Before long, the mosses, like many of the forest floor flora, will be covered with a coat of snow that may remain for five months. But unlike some of the other plants that get buried, the hardy mosses continue to be green under the snow and will still be green when the snows melt in spring. But for now, let’s take the time to notice these small, but abundant, green mosses as we walk through the delightful forests of AutWin.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books that are available now, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.