Mosses, Liverworts and Lichens are often regarded as undesirable additions to the
garden. However, for the budding microscopist they represent a wealth of interesting
viewing opportunities. There are some 10,000 species of moss worldwide, many of whom
have delicate leaf structures that are only one cell thick, making them ideal for
looking at under the microscope with only minimal preparation.
Lichens fall into their own unique category and consist of two parties in a symbiotic
(mutually beneficial) relationship. The white part in the microscope image (top
right) is a non-parasitic fungus while the green dots are algae. The fungus, in common
with parasitic varieties, cannot manufacture its own food so relies on the algae
to provide it via photosynthesis. In return the fungus provides a protective, moist
environment that the algae need to survive.
The Liverwort gets its name from the rounded leaves that form the base of the plant
that are similar in shape to the human liver. In medieval times, plants that looked
like parts of the body were thought to have medicinal benefits for those limbs or
organs. This was found not to be the case for the Liverwort, but the name stuck;
the ‘wort’ in Liverwort just means herb or plant. The visually more interesting parts
of the plant are involved reproduction, the female elements look like a forest of
miniature palm trees and are about 1-2cm tall. At a microscopic scale, the stoma
(openings through which a plant breaths) are very pronounced and sit amongst glassy
smooth exterior leaf cells that resemble rippling water.