I have heard stories of magical creatures, crows, dears, bears – animals often featured in animistic and shamanistic themes. In such stories, people feel a close affinity with these animals, and attribute great personal significance to them. They might say the animal calls to them, or that the animal is their totems.
I believe too that plants call to people. Perhaps even more so than animals. We are surrounded by plants, and we imbibe plants in our daily lives in food and drink.
Big trees for example are easy to feel an affinity for, because such plants engage our visual senses fully. But it is not just the giants that call out to people. If we permit, we may hear the serenades of the small.
It was a late friday afternoon in Lavras, Brazil. With the intention of getting some fresh air, I took a lone walk, with no definite destination in mind. My walk led me to an abandoned train station and railway, and inexorably, I became aware I was answering a call.
It was not long in my wanderings along the railway that I was greeted on an earthbank beside the railway by a large patch of Marchantia – a liverwort often featured in practically all textbooks on plant biology.
This species, Marchantia chenopoda, is a flat-bodied (“thallus”-like or “thalloid”) liverwort that produces intriguing “cups” of green lens-like grains (more technically known as gemmae). These gemmae allow Marchantia to reproduce themselves without sex. When splashed out of their gemmae cups by raindrops, each gemma grain is able to produce a whole new plant upon landing on suitable substrate.
And then I was greeted by a very peculiar type of liverwort – Fossombronia. Liverworts of this genus have a very interesting way of convoluting their thalloid body tissue into artistically-crinkled brains-like forms. And still they maintain a very low profile, and look like hieroglyphs impressed upon the earth.
One of the real gems of the day was meeting a liverwort that comes from a family that I had never encountered before – the Noterocladaceae. A bright green, charismatic liverwort, Noteroclada confluens is the sole member within its namesake family. First described in Brazil, this species has also been found in Mexico and some South Atlantic Ocean islands.
Although considered a leafy liverwort (as opposed to the two previous flat thallus-form liverworts), Noteroclada’s closest relatives are thallus-type liverworts from the Northern Hemisphere (see Crandall-Stotler et al. 2010). Their “leaves” are therefore some of the earliest leaf-like structures in the evolutionary journey of plants (See also a post I wrote long ago on the living fossil liverwort Treubia).
It has been years since I have had the chance to look very closely at little plants, but their magic still calls to me. Yet, when I gaze upon the viridescent forms of liverworts and mosses, I feel again transported to a realm where time is suspended, and I am suffused in delight.
And the enchantment lingers…
Crandall-Stotler, B., Stotler, R. E., Zhang, L., & Forrest, L. L. (2010). On the morphology, systematics and phylogeny of Noteroclada (Noterocladaceae, Marchantiophyta). Nova Hedwigia, 91(3-4), 421-450.