Mosses – bring autumn colour and texture to Coombes Valley…. and Jays help their spread?

Now that the leaves are starting to drop from the trees and flowering plants are less obvious  glance down at the mosses poking out among'st the patchwork of  fallen leaves. Mosses really come alive at this time of year the varied greens really striking after an autumn shower . Unlike other plants mosses can carry on growing all year round where moisture is available even in the depths of winter, providing an evergreen forest for invertebrates. I took these photos of some common species with a mobile phone by paths in the Churnet Valley part of the reserve on Saturday 16th November .

They are easy to see anywhere at Coombes Valley. Some are also fruiting at the moment.  

Common feather moss- Kindbergia praelongum –.  Irregularly branched. Heart shaped stem leaves and egg shaped stems leaves. All over the place on rocks stones trees wood

Heath plait moss Hypnum jutlandicum .Pinately branched, leaves bend back under the stem like little cypress branches –common on acid ground



Cushions of Polytrichastrum formosum Greater featherwort


 Common Tamarisk Moss - Thuidium tamariscinum. Capsules on this moss are uncommon and form over the autumn-winter

Plagiochilla asplenoides. One of the largest leafy liverworts shoot up to 12 cm long. Some people have suggested the lobes and pockets on liverworts allow gaseous exchange for photosynthesis  when the plants are submerged. 


Common Smoothcap /Catherines moss Atrichum undulatum - longish wavy strap like leaves

Each Common Smoothcap capsule can produce over 100,000 spores. Wind borne spores are released from the pepper pot like capsule if it’s hit by a rain drop or moves in the wind. Some mosses can produce over 5000,000 spores per capsule!

I watched a Jay burying acorns scattering bits of Common Smoothcap all over the place.  The broken stems and leaves providing another vegetative means of dispersal.  In their book Mosses and Liverworts Ron Porley and Nick Hodgetts suggest that the foraging activities of blackbirds scatter moss about the woodland floor aiding its vegetative dispersal. Nest building birds might drop moss fragments and this will also aid vegetative dispersal.

Ron Porley and Nick Hodgetts say moss can get caught in the bristly coats of Wildboar and spread that way.  Not much chance of that at Coombes Valley, but perhaps squirrels or deer?

PS also saw flock of 100 Sisken and a Willow Tit in Chase Wood.

Local volunteer Mark Preece

  • Wow! Mosses are so colourful and varied when you take the time to admire them. They seem such a lowly plant, often overlooked in favour of pretty flowers or funky fungi, but you're right, they do keep going all year sustaining the creepy crawlies and, in turn, the birds! Thanks for the photos and detailed information :-)


    Visitor Officer Intern at Coombes & Churnet Valleys nature reserves


    Information Assistant

    Loch Garten Osprey Centre