Before you drag the pressure washer out of its winter hibernation, let’s talk about the ecological importance of the moss growing between your patio pavers.

Despite their delicate appearance, mosses are old and toughened survivalists. They date back 450 million years, three times as far as our oldest flowering plants, and have survived global climate changes that range from the mass extinction of the Andean-Saharan ice age to the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, when the global temperature rose between 5°C and 8°C.

World wide, there are 12,000 species of moss and in the UK we have 1,000 of them. Some are adapted to survive in extreme conditions: the lowest temperature at which mosses have been shown to photosynthesise is -15°C and the highest is over 40°C. Photosynthesis not only produces and maintains the oxygen we breathe, it is also the process right at the bottom of most of the planet’s food chains, turning sunlight into sugars.

Mosses don’t have roots, they have rhizoids, hair like structures which act as anchors, fixing the moss to all kinds of unlikely surfaces: rooftiles, rock, concrete, rubber and rusty metal. Most species can suck up water and nutrients through their rhizoids as well as absorb them through their stems and leaves, an excellent back up system in a climate emergency. So, no matter what else we lose to rising temperatures, it looks as if mosses will have the resources to survive.

Be encouraged by this: they are important components of many ecosystems. They can regulate the temperature and water-content of a habitat’s soil, protecting vegetation from extremes by insulating the ground from the vagaries of our disastrously changeable weather patterns. They form stable, moist microhabitats for the sort of invertebrates that are so susceptible to heat waves and drought, down at the lower end of so many food chains..

Keep and cultivate your mosses. Let them creep between your flagstones, conserving water for your garden plants, creating microhabitats for the invertebrates that keep your soil healthy, and giving us hope for the future.

All the photographs except that of the temperate rainforest were taken in the reserve.

6 thoughts on “

    1. Absolutely! If people knew what lives in and on the moss on their patio, they would recycle their pressure washer (hard plastics bin) and buy a magnifying glass. Here are some tardigrades:

      1. I love em! Hardy Tardy = hardy tardigrade 😊 I am planning to get a microscope and take photos!

        Those electron microscope images are beautiful! Thanks for sharing 😊

        1. I worked out the hardytardy thing as soon as I saw your comment! They are extraordinary things but I have a question: why have they spent their 600m years on this planet evolving solely to survive? If they have the capacity to adapt to the extremes of space, why didn’t they use a little of that adaptability to climb out of the water and evolve into something with wings, or larger brains? The phylum Tardigrada seems to be a dead end.

          1. Maybe they’re just happy that way! 😁 It will be interesting to study their evolutionary genomics.

            Maybe they’re perfect as they are, being virtually nearly indestructible (as you probably know, they have predators, too).

            They might do, someday. Who knows. It’s only 600m years lol!

  1. Last year, I moved house and inherited a pressure-washed, and lifeless terrace garden. I have been encouraging and treasuring the things that grow and live between the pavers all year and this spring a bluetit, a grey wagtail and a wren have come to collect moss for their nests, and a dunnock comes every day to search for small insect food.

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