March wind wafts dry oak leaves --
curling around the green hair
of fruiting moss
The woods along Pilgrim Creek are still 50 shades of brown, except for the path lined with mounds of emerald moss. It's the time of the vernal equinox and after the lethargy of winter the musky scent of sexual reproduction permeates the air. The velvet moss cushions are sprouting their reproductive parts, fruiting bodies on slender stems that look like a Punk hairdo. A dry oak leaf, which held on tenaciously through the long cold, lets go in the warm wind and wafts down to curl around a clump of moss sporocarps.
The blister galls on the oak leaf formed when an insect, perhaps a tiny wasp, laid its eggs on the leaf, which provides protection and food for the insects. So now the fallen leaf will decay and feed the moss. What does the oak tree get out of all this? Moss retains a lot of moisture and the dense clumps also protect the ground from erosion. The clumps are probably too dense for acorns to sprout, unless a bird has pecked at the moss to get at the insects that shelter underneath. But smaller seeds will germinate in the moss and mice will eat the spores.
I'm wearing green jeans (remember Mr. Green Jeans?) as I kneel to examine the fruiting moss. When I get up, the knees of my jeans are wet and muddy, with bits of moss clinging to the cotton. So I become a disperser of spores, carrying moss fruit back home where it will happily take root in the shade of our trees.