Stinging woodchips in the liverwort garden

Posted on May 5, 2010

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Look deeply enough into the personal lives of other life forms and you’re likely to come away amazed, bitten, or both. 

I’ve been captivated—or who knows, maybe the word I want is captured—by the aliens of Tiny World, otherwise known as my accidental liverwort garden.

It had been awhile since my last visit to the liverworts, and it was good to see that they came through the winter in fine shape.

Tiny World is crammed with marvels.  This moss could be carved from pale jade.  

Spore capsules balance on fragile red stalks.

I was busily taking their picture when something stung me. Huh. There was a bit of wood chip stuck to my arm. Wait, wait – the wood chip was moving! It was biting me! I flung it back into the liverworts and took its picture, the little tortfeasor. I can’t even make out which end is the business end, but if it ever bites me again I’m going to feed it to the garter snakes.

There is wonderful news for those of us who are curious about the world and would like a reliable place to go learn a bit, from a layperson’s perspective, about this plant and that animal and the stinging woodchip over there.  Plans are afoot to build an Encyclopedia of Life with a Web page for every one of the planet’s 1.8 million known species.  Best of all, the project launches later this month at the Field Museum in Chicago with an international gathering of liverwort specialists! 

I could be tempted to go to Chicago, just to see wonderful images of bryophytes made through microscopes. However, the storage space in my brain is already overflowing and I am going to restrict myself to one obsession at a time. This summer belongs to the Civil War veterans. Unless one of them turns out to have been a liverwort fancier, in which case all bets are off.

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