Mosses belong to a group of plants called non-vascular plants. Non-vascular plants reproduce through spores, not seeds. They do not have any flowers. In some species, the male reproductive organs produce shoots which look like little green flower heads, however. Mosses are usually small. They have limited ability for transporting water, gases and other compounds.
Mosses can be found in wet environments, including wetlands, tropical rainforests and even in alpine environments. Most often mosses are seen on the floors of forests. Mosses are not found in salt water, however. They can also grow in more urban areas where there is moisture. They can grow on structures like brick walls and sidewalks. They can exist in dark caves and with very little light available.
In the Arctic regions, they are one of the few plants which can survive the low temperatures. They need water to reproduce so have difficulty surviving in a dry climate. In tundra regions, mosses can be found around large rocks. Some species of mosses look like a carpet in the tundra region because they cover a large area.
The life cycle of mosses is like many other plants even though they are very simple plants. Antherozoids are like sperm. They are produced in little sacs called antheridia. When antherozoids are released from the antheridia, they move through the water to fertilize nearby egg cells. This water needed is just a film of surface water. The eggs are produced in a structure inside the moss tissue. This structure looks like a flask. Because of their need for surface water for reproduction, mosses do not do well in dry climates.
A sporophyte is formed from the fertilization of an egg cell by an antherozoid. This is a capsule. Its base stays attached to the moss tissue. Many of these sporophytes pop up at certain times of the year. Spores are produced inside the capsule. The peristome or mouth of the capsule has radial teeth which expand or contract depending on the moisture in the air. Due to this expansion and contraction, the mouth of the capsule appears to open and close. When the teeth contract, the spores can be blown out by the wind. When the spores find an environment, which is right for them, they germinate and produce new plants.
Mosses belong to a group of plants called bryophytes. This is a group of non-flowering plants which are very simple in structure. Mosses have no roots. The leaves are only a few cells thick. Liverworts are in the same family as mosses. There are over 1100 species of mosses and liverworts. Most are mosses.
Many small plants called mosses are really types of algae or lichens. Spanish moss is an air plant of the pineapple family.
In the damp conditions where mosses thrive, a wide variety of very small living creatures exists. In this same environment, tree seedlings form. Mosses break down existing soils and release nutrients for future plants. They provide a secure surface to prevent erosion of the soil. They absorb water and help other vegetation thrive. The sphagnum moss is peat which gardeners use to mix in with soil for water absorption, so plants will not dry out.
In World War I, dressings for the soldiers' wounds were made from sphagnum mosses because they could absorb liquid faster than cotton. They were cooler, softer and less irritating to the wound. Mosses are thought to have antiseptic powers also. Native Americans used them for baby diapers.
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