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  • Writer's pictureTony Kendle

Learn to love the tiny things

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

At a micro scale, mosses can be as complex as forests - peer inside with a magnifying glass you will find that there is a web of life within. Tiny things living in a fairytale landscape.

Mosses are amongst the most fragile of beings, many of their structures only one cell thick - life made diaphenous. Even so, and contrary to common belief, mosses do not just require wet conditions, many can survive quite dry situations - on walls or roofs, as long as they are regularly refreshed with water.


Mosses have rudimentary root like structures called rhizoids, but these are really only anchoring structures - the plant absorbs all that it needs from air and rainfall. Because of this and because they are so tiny, mosses do not need vascular systems; they are in structure like many aquatic plants. That they can build such intricate complex structures from tissue-like substance is another wonder. At a micro scale, mosses can be as complex as forests - peer inside with a magnifying glass you will find that there is a web of life within. Tiny things living in a fairytale landscape.


Mosses give shelter to many insects, who feed there, lay eggs and shelter.

In turn, this insect abundance provides much needed food for birds - that is why you often see birds sifting through moss in the garden. Lawn perfectionists sometimes see moss in lawns as a ‘problem’. Remarkably there are even chemicals available to try to eradicate it.

That seems to me to be the core problem of the dominant gardening narrative.

Because we fail to see the wonder in things, we judge them as unworthy of our preconceived images of perfection and we reach for poisons and start killing, thereby blowing another hole in the web of life that sustains us. What madness has infected the human psyche that we feel an urge to poison something as fragile, as magical and as harmless as moss?


Look up, and find not-so-tiny things in the trees

As well as mosses and climbers there are other tree dwelling beings to look for. Ferns are another class of primitive plants that evolved alongside dinosaurs, but unlike mosses they do have structures resembling true leaves and a vascular system, so they can, and do, grow taller. We usually associate ferns with dark shady places at ground level, but they often can grow on trees as well. The most typical is common polypody, a small fern that grows from climbing rhizomes.


This community may be joined by lichens - lichens are unique creatures; they are formed from a symbiosis of a fungi and an algae - the algae photosynthesises and feeds the fungi, the fungi provides shelter and gathers nutrients. Most lichens are small and hug close to their host plant, or stone, like crusty smudge of grey green, , some however can develop complex structures, resembling mosses or even higher plants.

Lichens may look small and insignificant, but they grow almost anywhere and can secrete powerful acids, they are believed to be the first essential step to soil formation. Over time, and they have time, lichens can reduce boulders,rocks and even mountains to small particles that later join with dead organic natter to form the soil that all life depends on.


The downfall for many lichens is air pollution, another useful job they do is to signal clearly for us where our air has a problem.

“What madness has infected the human psyche that we feel an urge to poison something as fragile, as magical, and as harmless as a moss?”

So, the lesson is not to overlook the tiny things, just because we cannot see what they do for us, it never means that they are not busy or that we don’t need them.

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