K-Country is full of burned areas. In addition to natural and prescribed fires, you’ll find a lot of individual trees burned for pine beetle control, plus, in logged areas, slash burn remnants. Close to towns and other inhabited areas like some campgrounds, you’ll find areas that have received FireSmart treatments, too.
And if you look in these areas, you’ll almost certainly find an interesting and distinctive moss.
Fire Moss (Ceratadon purpureus) loves burned areas, and other disturbed soils. It’s pollution tolerant, and can be found in cities as well as industrial areas. It is so adaptable that it grows world-wide, but it’s prime home in K-Country is burn sites. It’s considered a pioneer plant, and often is the first or even only plant to come in after high-intensity fire, beating out even Fireweed. Fire adds a lot of nitrogen to the soil, and Fire Moss thrive in that, as well as the full sunshine that fire creates. It can sprout in as little as 4 months after a fire. But being a pioneer plant, it only lives for 5-10 years before other plants take over.
Distinctive Red Colour
What makes Fire Moss so distinctive is that it starts growing LOTS of tiny green things that look like flowers (or Cress). These are actually sporophytes; the “stem” part is called the setae, and the “flower” part a capsule. The setae emerge as soon as the snow melts, as early as late March in the valley bottoms. The capsules appear later, often by late April.
When fully grown in less than a month, these “flowers” turn a beautiful red colour. They are usually so dense the green of the moss underneath is hardly visible. The capsules contain reproductive spores. Not long after peak red colour, they break open and blow on the wind to reproduce. The capsules and setae also change shape with different humidity, which helps them break open. These eventually dry up, but will be found on the moss through until the fall.
A tiny insect called a Springtail often assists in fertilization, living in the moss and moving spores around much like bees spreading pollen from flowers.
Fire Moss is remarkably hardy. The capsules and spores remain viable for up to 16 years, long after the plant is dead and has dried up.
Find out about some of the other cool plants in K-Country here!