New Zealand’s native mosses
You’ve probably passed moss during outdoor walks and excursions hundreds of times and not thought too hard about them. Even though they’re not quite as visually arresting as an ancient kauri tree or a dormant volcano, mosses still hold a very special place in the scheme of things.
In fact, these simple plants date back roughly 360 million years, and are actually the next evolutionary step up from algae. Plus, out of all the plants in the world, they are the most diverse group, with more than 10,000 species on the planet.
In New Zealand alone, there are more than 500 ‘true moss’ species.
Interestingly, only about a fifth of those species are endemic (only occurring in New Zealand). This is a surprisingly low number considering so many of the country’s other plants are endemic (closer to 80 per cent). The reason is because the spores of mosses are so lightweight that they are easily blown around the globe, so it’s not as hard for a moss to grow elsewhere.
The majority of New Zealand’s mosses are ‘true mosses’, which means they are real mosses, as opposed to other plants that are called moss but aren’t really (such as Irish moss). New Zealand also grows some sphagnum moss, which is grown commercially and used as a gardening aid, and even for fuel and packaging. Plus, sphagnum moss is also wonderful as it stores carbon, which keeps carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The last group of mosses is known as ‘granite mosses’, which are those that thrive on rocky surfaces.
Mosses usually grow in shady, damp places such as forests, although a number are best in well-lit areas. During a day tour from Auckland through the Waitakere Ranges or our to Tawharanui, you’ll see plenty of mosses and learn even more about them.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist