Appalachian Club Moss

Image of Appalachian clubmoss


I've tried to get a good picture of these little fellas before, but they were rather sad looking. Now these here are beauties and reproducing nicely! I found them along the Upper Boone Fork trail. That section of trail was close enough to the parking area to be quite busy, so I had several people stop and ask what I was taking pictures of there laying among the leaves on the ground. I tried to explain, but I think they weren't really all that much into botany to fully appreciate it. *LOL*The yellow "pockets" you can see in between the leaves are sporangia. Despite being called a moss, these are not mosses at all but rather the sporophytes of seedless vascular plants more closely related to ferns than to mosses.The spores grow into microscopic gametophytes that make egg and sperm cells for fertilization. The non-photosynthetic gametophytes can't survive on their own but are mycoheterotrophic which means they depend on a mycorrhizal fungus for nutrition. Without the fungus their growth stops at an early stage. After fertilization, the zygote forms an embryo that grows out of the gametophyte into one of these sporophyte plants again. The sporophyte is fully photosynthetic and associates with the same mycorrhizal fungus in a mutualistic symbiosis. So by providing nutrients to the needy gametophyte, the fungus assures that they will grow up to produce sporophytes that will pay back well in the form of sugars made during photosynthesis. Give a little, take a little!This plant has a curious distribution - it is found in three separate places that are not connected: Greenland, eastern Canada and the New England states in the US, and the Southern Appalachians. It is considered endangered in Michigan and threatened in New York and Tennessee.

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