Liverwort

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Although hardly noticed by most of us, Liverwort is fascinating. In terms of the evolution of life on Earth, this plant type is old. About 400,000,000 years old. They existed a long, long time before more advanced plants such as flowering plants, ferns and mosses appeared on the planet.

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They still utilize their primative features to this day. Instead of bearing regular roots, they have simple, one-celled appendages known as rhizoids. There is no vascular system, a characteristic of modern plants, to transport water, nutrients and other materials.

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Liverworts are usually found in damp places. I often see them on the sides of rocks in woodland waterways. A number of species are aquatic; they grow on the water’s surface like mini Lily Pads.

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Like the mosses, liverwort leaves are only one cell layer thick. These cells are usually isodiametric, meaning, the cell is as long as it is wide.

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Liverworts got their name because long ago the people who named them felt that the curious arrangement of cells on the surface of some Liverworts was similar to the cell arrangement in actual livers taken from animals.

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Christmas Fern

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During the Carboniferous Period (300 million years ago) ferns were the dominant part of the vegetation. Ferns are among the world’s most ancient plants, found as fossils in rocks 400 million years old.

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Today’s coal is made largely of fossilized ferns from back in their “hey day.” Dead plants became buried underground and very gradually turned to coal under the immense pressure of the earth.

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Christmas Fern is one of the few green plants you are likely to see if you hike in the eastern forests during this time of the year.

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Their association with Christmas is an old one. “Back in the day” its fronds were once harvested, baled into bundles and sold to florists for wreath making.

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This is a common and easy-to-identify plant. It is especially abundant on well shaded, forested hillsides near streams. Its leaflets look like tiny Christmas stockings. The rich, green leaves (fronds) of the fern are up to three feet long and are about four inches wide.

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Club Moss

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These plants can be thought of a relicts of a glorious past, as Club Moss ancestors were tree-like during the aptly-named Carboniferous Period, which, together with ferns and horsetail ancestors, formed coal.

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This is one of the oldest living plants still around on Earth. Fossil records show evidence of relatives these plants alive on Earth over 200 million years ago. Like all primitive plants, they do not have flowers or seeds, but reproduce through spores in a cone-like structure at the end of the stem.

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They as also known as ground pines or creeping cedar, as they resemble these trees and a green year-round. But they are not very tall – maybe an inch or so.

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The spores have also been used in pyrotechnics and photography. They are extremely flammable and will explode when ignited. They were commonly used by old time photographers when they wanted to illuminate their subject, they would ignite the spores to create a flash.

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This small, fascinating plant with a long history also adds a bit of green to an otherwise mostly brown forest floor at this time of year.

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Scouring Rush

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Scouring Rush is a primitive species that can be found throughout the world. Members of its family are commonly known as “Horsetail.”

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It is easily recognized by its slender, jointed stems, which remind me of bamboo. This plant’s stems are vertically ridged and round in cross-section.

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“Back in the day” the stems, which have a high silica content, were used to smooth items made of wood and scour pots and pans. Since they are hollow, they were also used as straws.

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The “leaves” of Scouring Rush are fused together forming ashy grey, papery bands at the joints of the plant’s stems.

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Its favored habitat includes moist sites such as stream banks, flood plains and wetlands from lowland to mid-elevations.

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The Horsetails are related to the ferns and do not produce flowers, fruit or seeds. They reproduce by spores which are produced in a cone-like structure on the tips of the stems.

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This “old school” plant is the single surviving genus of a class of prehistoric plants that dates back to over 350 million years ago.

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Ohio Haircap Moss

Though the forest is mostly brown these days, there are a few spots where green can be seen, like on patches of Ohio Haircap Moss. It is found on soil, logs and rocks in hardwood forests of Eastern North America, New Mexico and Europe.

Mosses have no vascular system, which is a network of tubes that transport water and nutrients. Plants without vascular systems cannot grow very large. These are actually “carpets” of individual plants. They are rarely taller than one inch high.

Another characteristic of mosses is that they require water to reproduce, rather than having a flower, like most plants. Mosses are primitive plants and like their ancestors, they are aways found in moist situations. They colonized on land almost half a billion years ago.

The leaves have a unique adaptation that allows them to better withstand dry conditions. Under moist conditions, leaves spread away from the stem and permit a maximum use of light when moisture is adequate.

However, under dry conditions, the leaves curve and twist around the stem. This behavior minimizes water loss. The central stems form tough, pliable strands that “back in the day” were used to make small brushes.

Never underestimate the power of moss. Recent research indicates the the arrival of the first land plants triggered a series of ice ages, by cooling the Earth’s climate due to reducing the atmospheric carbon levels.

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