Thursday, March 23, 2017

Teeth and hair

One more item from the moss walk: some hairy, toothy mushrooms on a tree.

Unidentified small shelf mushrooms. Soft, spiky haired on top, toothy on the underside.

A better look at the teeth.

I've searched my guide and a few mushroom sites on the web, and haven't found this. Does anyone recognize it?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Skinny leaves and stretchy cords

Where there is moss in our coastal forests, there is also lichen. I am fascinated by its myriad forms; so intriguing!

Here are some of the photos taken on the moss walk, identified only to general type.

This would be a leaf lichen. Shrub lichens have cylindrical stems; this has flattened stems, like skinny leaves.

Another skinny leaf lichen.

A ruffled leaf, or rag lichen. (Ragbag?)

Appressed leaf lichen. 

A hairy, "beard" lichen, fallen in great clumps from the trees above.

Fuzzy photo through a wet lens. Usnea sp.

This lichen genus (Usnea) is easily identified (to genus, anyhow) by the tough central cord. Our guide is demonstrating here. The cord is elastic; if you pull gently on both ends, it stretches out visibly, uncoiling. Release it, and it springs back.

I brought home a sample. I just re-tested what's left of it, dry and stiff after a week in a bag. It still stretches.

A bit of everything, all growing together. At least four lichens, yellowish shelf mushrooms with purple borders, two mosses, and salal leaves, on a dead branch.

More mixed lichens on an evergreen branch. The recent wet weather brought down many branches from overhead; usually these are out of reach.

This week, I walked most of the Ripple Rock trail, and brought back more moss and lichen photos, as well as some interesting spiders and mushrooms. Then I flipped rocks on the Tyee Spit beach at low tide; a treasure trove! I don't know which I'll post first; all the photos call out to be processed, "now! Me first!"

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

These shelf fungi are black

Black. Midnight black. Shined shoe leather black.

Black polypores dwarfing the stump they're growing on.

I think this may be a Ganoderma sp., but any photos I find of them on the web are labelled only "Black bracket fungus". They seem to have a pale lip, maybe the edge of a light underside, but I couldn't get close enough to see that.

Monday, March 20, 2017

March equinox

First day of spring! I thought it would never come!

This calls for something sunny. Something yellow, maybe.

Fingertip yellow jelly fungus. (Tremella. See comments.)

Dead evergreen branch with a bunch of fingertip yellow fungi.

More yellow jellies, with a different growth pattern. On old log. (Dacrymyces chrisospermus?)

Very yellow jelly. With hungry slugs.

Baby yellow jellies on peeled log, with insect tunnels.

And the sun shone all day today. The sky was blue, the clouds white and fluffy. My forsythia is finally - finally! - putting out yellow-tipped buds, the crocuses are blooming in front of the library, and I found a clump of brand-new baby skunk cabbages. Yay, spring!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Trying to understand

Mosses are confusing enough. But Ma Nature likes to have us completely bewildered. So we have liverworts, which look like mosses, act like mosses, and grow intermingled with mosses. Our guide on the moss walk kept pointing out bits of green that looked like all the other bits of green, and calling them liverworts. Even with the hand lens I was carrying, I couldn't see the difference.

"And what is that one?"

Everything's somewhere on the web, if you look long enough. I found a site from Australia that explains the difference so clearly that even I can see it.

First, look for sporophytes, the spore-bearing capsules.

The green or red capsules are sporophytes, growing spores.

It's always possible, and very easy, to determine whether you have a moss, liverwort or hornwort if sporophytes are present. Remember that a sporophyte consists of a spore capsule, with or without a supporting stalk or seta.
Are groups of spore capsules held aloft on complex structures?
The bryophyte is a liverwort.
A fuzzy head, like a pussy willow or a grass ear, would be a complex structure. If the "moss" has those, it's a liverwort.
If the stem is translucent (and often colourless) the bryophyte in question is almost certainly a liverwort.
If the stalk supporting the capsule is opaque and coloured green, brown or red the bryophyte in question is a moss.
 If sporophytes are absent you'll naturally need to look at some gametophyte features, the first step being to see whether you have a thallose or a leafy bryophyte. A thallose bryophyte is either a liverwort or a hornwort. A leafy bryophyte is either a moss or a liverwort.
(Hornworts are aquatic; we can ignore them for now.)

If the plant has no clear stems or leaves, it is thallose, and therefore a liverwort.
The first thing to do is to see whether you have a thallose or a leafy bryophyte. The almost leathery thallus of a robust thallose bryophyte is fairly easy to pick. Similarly, in some leafy species the leaves-on-stems growth habit is very easy to see. 
For this, with some of the plants, we need a lens; some liverwort thalli look like stems and leaves to the naked eye.

So the photo above is clearly a moss. The sporophytes are simple, held on a tall stalk, with red tints. The leaves grow attached to the stems, not as continuations of the stem. (Look at the stem below the red sporophyte on the right.)
In the great majority of moss species the mature spore capsule opens by means of a well-defined mouth. Remember that a liverwort spore capsule never has a well-defined mouth.
To see that, a lens is probably needed. And being there at the right time, when the spores are mature, or already released.

There is much more info on the page I'm quoting, details on how to distinguish thallose from leafy structures, photos, and exceptions to the rules. (Aren't there always?) But the sporophyte detail is enough for a rough guide, for now, for me.

The moss is green and leafy; even in this photo, the stems are visible as a separate structure from the leaves. The liverwort is one of the leafy ones; the leaves are short and stubby. Luckily, it's red.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Hanging millipede

"Don't touch this," our guide said. She was pointing at a fallen branch covered with small, purplish-brown leaves. "Some people are allergic to it," she added. We clustered around, looking, but keeping our distance.

Frullania nisquallensis, "Hanging millipede liverwort".

It's not a moss, but a liverwort*. It grows on alder and maple; in this particular bit of forest, the large deciduous trees are mostly maples. And it may cause contact dermatitis, which gives it an alternate name: "Woodman's eczema".

Good to know, if you're scrambling about in the rain forest. I Googled it and read a few reports; contact with the wet bark or with fallen fragments of the liverwort can cause an eczema that lasts several weeks. Gloves are no protection, unless they're waterproof and no water seeps in through the wrists, but most eruptions are on the face and other exposed areas. It seems to be no problem in dry weather.

Frullania nisquallensis, commonly known as Hanging millipede liverwort, is a reddish-brown species of liverwort in the Jubulaceae family. It is found in western Washington and British Columbia, including Vancouver Island. The plant grows in mats, sometimes in mats that hang from tree branches (particularly those of alders, or maples), or growing close to the substrate. (Wikipedia) (My emphasis)

That explains the "hanging" part of the name, "hanging millipede." It doesn't look much like a millipede to me, though. There's a whole page of photos on INaturalist, which may be helpful if you're planning to go looking for firewood on a wet day. But stay dry!

*More on this, later.


The rain had used up the water reserves in the clouds, and was reduced to a sporadic sprinkle when we started on the moss walk. That was out in the clear; under the trees, masses of moss overhead substituted for clouds, holding the water for a while, then dropping large blobs on our heads - splat!

A handful of wet moss can feel almost dry, until you squeeze it; then water gushes out.

I was glad I was carrying only the pocket camera; it's easier to keep dry, and cheaper, in case it's ruined. Within five minutes inside the forest, I had to start drying the lens between shots; many were blurry. And before we finished the circuit, the camera just plain refused to take any more photos. An hour in the warmth beside a wood stove, with its innards exposed to the air, fixed it; it works again. Whew!

This sampler of moss photos are no-name-brand; I haven't been able to identify them with any confidence.

The woods were hairy, dark, and deep. (Sorry, Robert Frost!)

And lumpy.

A different variety of lumps. With leaf lichen and infant Cladonia in the open spaces.

Wet country. Even the sign is wet.

Dead but still standing; a tall stump carries the black shelf fungi that killed it. One of the naturalists on the walk is properly dressed for the weather; Tilley hat and rubber rain gear.

Another stump, well rotted, full of woodpecker holes, with a crown of dangling moss.

At least three different mosses here, with last year's maple leaves, and fresh new buds on a twig.

Almost looks like electrified cats' tail again. With leaf lichens.

Leafy moss with sporophytes. The ripe ones are red; green sporophytes are immature. Raindrops run down some of the stalks. (Aka setae.)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Electrified cat's tail

Mosses are difficult to identify. (Typical Canadian understatement; begin again.) Mosses are fiendishly difficult to identify.

They change from one day to the next, depending on the weather. They grow in compact mounds, uniformly coloured, one leaf blending into the next. They are multicultural; as many as 40 different species can live together on one tree, intermingled. Male and female plants may seem to be separate species. And they are best seen in the pouring rain, when cameras and magnifying lenses are at a disadvantage.

Back at home, Googling mosses, looking at photos, I find apparent matches. But most of them, once I follow the links, refer to them generically, as "moss". It seems that other people are as befuddled as I am.

Moss experts try to help, giving specific mosses easily remembered names. "Finger-licking good moss," "palm tree moss," "beaked moss," "wavy-leaved cotton moss," "goose-neck moss," and my favourite, "electrified cats'-tail moss." Now, the problem is remembering which of all those green, spiky mosses goes with which handy name.

This, I think, is Oregon beaked moss. I could (easily) be wrong. Note the lone, red sporophyte. (Or Rhytidiadelphus loreus? See comment by Matt Goff.*)

And this should be Electrified cats-tail, Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus.

Zooming in on one of the dozens of mosses on a short trail. Unidentified, for the moment. (Buckiella undulata*)

This one has a strong central stem. (Oregon beaked moss?*)
And in this one, the stem and branches are brown, even on a wet, green day. The branches here are opposite: compare to those on the Oregon beaked moss, which are alternate. (Glittering wood moss, Hylocomium splendens.*)

A hanging moss. These grow mainly on branches. (Brachythecium?*)

I thought I had memorized the order in which our guide, Jocie Brooks, had showed us the mosses, and could co-ordinate them with the sequence of photos. I was too optimistic. We saw repeats at random throughout the walk, and my list got scrambled in my mossy brain.

At least I remember clearly which one was the "Finger-licking good moss". Unfortunately, by then my camera had gone on strike because of the rain. Can't win.

*Updated after comments by Matt Goff.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

When it's wet ...

... it's very wet. At least here, in our coastal rain forests. And being wet, it's also green, very green.

Lungwort, a large, leafy lichen, grows on trees. And when the rains are heavy and prolonged, it falls off in great chunks. I picked one up beside our trail in Miracle Beach park, vibrantly green, after weeks of soaking.

Lobaria pulmonaria, green
Lungwort, Lobaria pulmonaria, on wet log, moss, and maple leaves.

If you look closely (check the middle lobe on the far right), the reproductive structures, soredia and/or isidia, are visible as small, brownish lumps along the edge and the ridges.

Soredia are powdery propagules composed of fungal hyphae wrapped around cyanobacteria or green algae. (Wikipedia)
An isidium is a vegetative reproductive structure ... They are fragile structures and may break off and be distributed by wind, animals, and splashing raindrops. (Wikipedia)

I flipped the lichen over. The underside was lumpy, almost white, except for the pale brown wool in the valleys.

Lungwort, underside
Lungwort underside. Some of the soredia are visible along the edges.

I don't often see this lichen so brilliantly green. Once the rains stop, it dries to a pale yellowish brown.

Lobaria pulmonaria
Lungwort in dry weather. Taken at Brown's Bay, last February.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Hairy moss

I joined a group this morning for a walk in the dripping wet, mossy Miracle Beach Provincial Park, looking at mosses, liverworts, and lichens, with guides from the local naturalists' society. (CVNS) I came home with a wet camera and a couple of hundred photos.

Tortula muralis
Tortula muralis, Wall screw-moss.

(This photo is not from the walk, but from a rock along the coast, last week. Today's tour guide has identified it as Wall screw-moss.)

This moss grows on rock, and preferably on concrete, so is found most often in urban areas. The hairs at the tip of each leaf, showing white in this photo, are a diagnostic feature. The name, "screw-moss" refers to a microscopic feature of the spore capsules.

I think the base rock is really an abandoned chunk of retaining wall.

I will be processing mossy photos for the next few days.

Home-grown barnacle eater.

I haven't been bringing snails home to the aquarium since I moved to Campbell River, but somehow, they show up here anyhow. This pretty purple dogwinkle (what a name!) has been fattening up on barnacles and the occasional mussel.

Nucella canaliculata
Channelled purple dogwinkle, Nucella canaliculata.

The shell sculpture consists of many well-defined spiral ridges of approximately equal size.  The whorls are set off from one another by a deep groove.  Small individuals ... may be orange; older individuals are often yellowish brown or light gray. (

There is also another one, somewhat smaller, in the tank; it is bright orange.

Since there are two snails, I'll start watching for egg capsules and later, baby snails.

The famous purple dye from the city of Tyre that colored royal Roman robes, was made from a relative of Nucella.  The snails were ground up in a stone mortar; different combinations made different shades of purple.  The dye should be fixed with lemon juice as a mordant.  The American species produce a much less brilliant purple than do the Mediterranean species. (WallaWalla)

I didn't know that. This shell would possibly produce a bluish-purplish grey. But the snail is safe; I'm not going to swipe his shell. When he's done with it, a few years from now, the hermit crabs will want it.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Bubbles and bladders

Winter is almost over, and the occasional blade of eelgrass is turning up on the beaches again. I found a few plants with roots and brought them home. The hermit crabs are happy about that; they love to sit up high on a green blade and watch the world go by.

View of the tank with winter seaweeds; red algae and brown wireweed. And 3 eelgrass plants.

The tall, brown seaweed bearing little round float bladders is a Sargassum, possibly Sargassum muticum, an invasive from Japan. For most of the winter, the hermits and snails ignored it, not interested in searching it for food. In the last few weeks, perhaps tired of having nothing to climb, a few have been found swinging on the upper branches, but now that there's a bit of eelgrass, they've abandoned the Sargassum again.

Few organisms have been found living on Sargassum muticum in British Columbia, though a number have been reported in Washington, Oregon and California. A study in southern California estimated that a 5 m tall plant hosts an average of 3,000 animals, including foraminifers, hydroids, flatworms, polychaete worms, leeches, snails, ostracods, cumaceans, isopods, gammarid and caprellid amphipods, opossum shrimp, euphausid shrimp, crabs and bryozoans ... (Nicholson et al. 1981) (The Exotics Guide)

Why BC critters are pickier than the ones in the U.S, I have no idea.

"Bubbles", hanging out on the eelgrass.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Blue blood and duplicate legs

Hermit crabs are peaceable critters. They are content, mostly, to trundle about, picking at bits of algae or scraps of yesterday's lunch. They don't mind carrying several of their friends on their backs; they take turns trying on interesting shells; they tidy up their neighbour's shells for them.

But - there's always a but - they have no patience when it comes to special treats. The first one they find is the one they absolutely must have. Even if someone else found it first.

So, Hermie A (we'll call her Eve) finds a yummy shrimp pellet and grabs it. Hermit B (Bob) comes along, sees the pellet, and tries to take it away. Eve retreats into her shell, taking the pellet with her. Bob grabs that shell and pokes away with his smaller pincer, trying to get the food. Eve shrinks back even farther, holds on tighter. Bob pokes and yanks. Usually, he gives up after a while, and Eve comes out still holding her dinner.

Sometimes things get out of hand, and Eve loses a leg. Better that than losing her food, she says. Legs grow back; treats don't.

An Eve was standing by the wall this evening, showing off her brand new leg.

hermit crab with new blue leg
The new leg is a rich blue.

As the leg grows, it will develop the nodules and hairs of a mature leg, but for now, the skin is smooth and transparent; the blue colour showing through is the hermit's blood. Our blood contains iron, which binds oxygen and carries it to our cells. It gives our hemoglobin a nice red colour. Crabs, including the hermits,* have hemocyanin instead; the oxygen-binding metal is copper, which turns the blood blue.

*So do some spiders, such as the tarantula.

Friday, March 10, 2017


Baikie Island is a previously industrial, now reclaimed balloon of land, protruding into the Campbell River estuary. Only a narrow stream separates it from the mainland to the north, which is still home to heavy machinery: a clutter of rust, oil and mud, groaning chains, crumbling barrels, greasy weeds. At the tip of the island, the contrast is jarring; birds and bush behind, the calm waters of the estuary ahead, and to my left, a short stone's throw away, a rusty mass.

But when the light is just right, and if a moored barge has introduced a dash of colour, there is beauty to be found even there.

reflection Baikie Island
Barge, reflected.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

More lichen

This group is on a post at the docks. It seems that salt spray doesn't slow it down.

An appressed leaf lichen, and maybe a rag.

I find it very difficult to distinguish between the shrub lichens, the rags, the bones, and the beards. They are all pale green to whitish, shrubby lichens, growing on trees, logs and rocks. In this one, if I look closely, the various branches are wide, textured, rather than round and twiggish.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Reaching for the moon

In the summer, I love evergreens, so cooling, so light-absorbent. In wintertime, I am enthralled by the empty branches of deciduous trees, sometimes festooned by lichens, sometimes painted with green mosses, always individual, always graphic against the sky.

This one wears green and yellowish moss.

The moon is almost within reach.

And in early spring, I marvel at the sight of the shiny new, neon-green leaves. It won't be long now; buds are bursting out all over.

Another Skywatch post.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Sand, waves, and distant snow

Wandering idly on a sunny afternoon, I ended up on the sand at Saratoga Beach.

It keeps on snowing over on the mainland. Only the lower hills are blue.

That pale beige line on the horizon is Mitlenatch Island. Somehow, no matter the weather on either shore, the sun always shines on Mitlenatch.

In spite of the sun, the wind was chilly, and by the time I'd reached the water's edge, (with flying, icy spray) the sun had hidden itself behind the clouds. I walked to the rocks, turned over a few and tickled a couple of crabs, then hurried back; my hands had gone numb with the cold. It didn't help that I was carrying a collection of wet clam shells for identification practice at home.

A Skywatch post.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Under the wharf, it's spring.

The tide was low, the sun was shining, and there was no wind; the perfect time to visit the docks and peer underneath the floats again. The water was smooth and clear, exposing the communities clustered along pipes and logs.

This year, or maybe this time of year, the sea urchins were out in full force. I hadn't seen them here before.

Under a floating office. Green sea urchins, about a couple of inches across.

More urchins, several scallops encrusted with weeds and worms, barnacles and a feather-duster worm, on a plastic pipe under the ramp.

A rusty pipe and a rope underneath the ramp. Sea urchins again, purple and beige feather duster worms, a red sponge (on the whitish pipe on the left) and a larger, greyish sponge. On the far left, a mass of tubeworms. At the top right, a brilliant red feather duster.

There were several masses of jelly, probably egg masses. This one was on a piling partly exposed by the low tide. I touched it; it was soft, but firm, not sticky.

This was down on the bottom, underneath a float. It's about a hand's width across. An anemone, but not one I recognize.

I have visited the docks several times during the winter, peering down the gaps between pilings, squinting between logs. All I have seen in the water were fish, maybe because of the lack of light, or possibly some of the summer residents have retreated to more sheltered locations. I'm glad to see the crowds coming back.