Paulo loves mosses. He notices them everywhere. He thinks about them all the time. If you ask about them, he beams.
I get the distinct impression that the worst afterlife he could imagine would be to come back as a rolling stone.
This week though, he’s in seventh heaven. Professor Paulo Câmara of the University of Brasilia has been collecting mosses in the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) as part of the pan-American Falklands Islands Science Symposium lead by the UK Science and Innovation Network and his collection is growing steadily in size and fame.
“Paulo,” I say one day after the meetings are over. “You must tell me about the mosses.”
Before I know it, we’re outside, on the ground, picking up a sample of a spiky little mosses and peering at them through Paolo’s hand lens to try to discern tell-tale structures on each one. Unless you observe them on their own small scale, trying to identify mosses is going to be like trying to identify tree species from the window of a trans-continental flight.
We move on to the hotel, where he’s stashed all his samples in neatly labeled paper bags that are cataloged in a spiral notebook he takes on each sampling mission.
“Mosses are everywhere,” he says, adding with a certain pride that they create the conditions that allow many other forms of life to thrive.
Start with some bare, damp rocks. In comes a moss spore.
It makes its own food and grows, using its rhyzoid filaments to hold on to the surface of that bare rock with incredible strength.
If anything breaks off the primitive leaves or stem, each of those can regenerate into a new plant.
Mature male mosses produce two-tailed sperm that, unlike almost all flowering plant sperm, actively swim through the damp surroundings to fertilize the female plants and begin the growth of structures that will create new spores.
Soon where there was once only bare rock, there’s a whole dense clump of moss, retaining up to ten times its weight in water and creating an environment where other plants and animals can feed, breed, and grow.
And this is all happening everywhere, all the time.
And that’s at least part of why Paulo is so passionate about mosses.