Nature Notes

Vol. XIII December - 1935 No. 4

Plant Pioneers

In the plant kingdom as well as in the animal kingdom there are individuals or groups of individuals that thrive in unexplored territory. Places where soil conditions are strange, where temperature changes take place rapidly and frequently, and where numerous other circumstances are found that keep the weaklings away. Only the more rugged can endure. Not only rugged but primitive. By primitive is meant non-specialized or highly adopted to any given type of artificial environment. We would not expect a hot house plant to live long in such a place. Rather, it takes a plant whose makeup is such that it is at home in these surroundings and can make the best of what little support is found. Such plants are the Bryophytes.

Inhabiting new areas like this is easy for these plants for they have been working at it for centuries, yes even eons of time. Their ancestors had to cope with conditions that were perhaps even worse because it is possible to trace their beginning back to the time when there were no land plants. Nothing living on the soil, no trees, shrubbery, vines, herbs, or even ferns. Out of the water then came the liverworts and slowly crept out over the land. By a slow but inevitable process they were able to utilize the land and its more arduous life. And so, in time populate the area both by individuals of its own number and by giving rise to other forms which were destined in time to grow into the type of land plants that we find today. They are the aboriginal land plants and all such plants are their immediate or distant relatives.

Female and Male Gametophyte

sketch of plant

It isn't strange then that today we find them to be the first plants to inhabit the ground laid bare by retreating glaciers, by rivers changing their course, by new soil being uncovered by uprooted trees and mountain tops where new rocks are exposed by melting ice and new upheavels. On Mt. Rainier such actions are going on constantly so it isn't strange that we find a great many of their forms here. In fact, it is a perfect heaven for mosses and liverworts. Anyone desiring to study these groups can find abundant forms that are strange and interesting. On a short but entertaining walk from the Glacier Bridge up to the snout of the Nisqually Glacier it is possible to find numerous varieties growing in dense mats. On closer examination it can be seen that each separate handful will be free from foreign plants and usually of one species. Thus making it easy for classification and drawing.

These dense clumps of green growing near the rocks or even under them are seen by the average person as merely another little bit of greenery and then forgotten. They do present pleasant color where they grow as a thick carpet over the rocks and if they were to serve this purpose alone, of putting green color in places that are usually drab, their popular demand might be accomplished. But they offer more pleasing experiences than this. To anyone who is interested in divulging the secrets of nature from minute forms, a more thoroughly captivating study cannot be found. In the first place not a great deal of work has been published so only a little is common knowledge so it is interesting from the standpoint of newness. Secondly, there are so many varieties, easily obtainable, that one seldom needs to repeat.

Merely to know the names of these plants is of secondary interest. To find out how each of then have solved the puzzle of carrying on their existence under strange conditions is unique. Going into their anatomy and comparing it with the rest of the plants proves to be satisfying, because all we have said about their pioneering attempts and qualities is upheld, both from the evolutionary and morphological standpoint.

It is like reading a "living" ancient history of the plant. To present this vitalized history fully would require much space, so at another time more can be said.

J. Hoverson,

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