New book gives fascinating insight into the miniature world of mosses and liverworts

Mosses and liverworts – bryophytes – offer a wonderful miniature world to be discovered on the doorstep. West Cork is one of the best places in the world to see them, and the only kit needed is a mobile phone camera or a hand lens. A well-written book can provide a great introduction, and one is newly available from the Ellen Hutchins Festival team, suited for self-guided explorations into this intriguing world of micro-nature. 

The new book, ‘Mosses and Liverworts: an introductory guide to the Bantry Bay area’ by Rory Hodd is a delight. Rory is one of the leading Irish bryologists, and writes clear descriptions and provides helpful diagrams. His photographs are stunning. You will wonder why you have not looked closely at this world before now. 

It’s not all fuzzy green lumps – there are golden stars and purple worms, silvery cushions and woolly fringes. Learn about their life cycle, structures, and important place in the plant world. 

There is also a free leaflet, ‘Bryophytes of West Cork’, suitable for all ages, developed alongside the book as a lovely first step into bryophytes. This can be downloaded from the website or you get a printed copy when you order the book. It works well for children and families. It includes some fascinating facts, including these two:

Some of the mosses and liverworts that grow in the west of Ireland are tropical species, which grow nowhere else in Europe. They can survive here because of the mild, damp climate, which is like a tropical cloud forest.

There is such an abundance of mosses on earth that they absorb more carbon than all the trees in the world. This ‘carbon capture’ is needed to help prevent climate change. So it is just as important to save tiny plants as it is to save trees!

Turning the clock back 210 years from 2021, to 1811, Ellen Hutchins, botanist of Bantry Bay, was enthusing about mosses and liverworts and very excited by new discoveries she was making. While Ellen is better known for her work on seaweeds, including her beautiful and accurate watercolour drawings of them, she loved mosses and liverworts and the habitats in which they are found. West Cork is fortunate to have a wide range of habitats – mountains, woodlands, riverbanks, and beside streams and waterfalls. Ellen wrote “nothing delights me more than the sight of a great rock covered with a variety of mosses”. One of her favourite places for plant hunting was in Glengarriff Woods, “a very favourite spot by the rocky, woody side of a little waterfall, particularly dear to me as the place of growth of one of my new species and many mosses. I have spent many happy hours creeping among its rocks and never quitted it without regret. The troublesome little affairs of this world continually deprive one of the enjoyment of such pleasures.”

Ellen wrote how ‘botanising’ gave her a reason to go on walks regularly, and a focus in collecting tiny samples of interesting plants to take home and look at in detail through a hand lens or microscope. Could this spring, 2021, be your opportunity to focus in more closely on this aspect of the natural world? 

Each trip out of the door was for Ellen a voyage of discovery. She found rare and beautiful mosses in the most ordinary places, noting in her plant list ones found “on an old apple tree that was cut down”, “on the wall” by a friend’s house, “on rocks under the bridge” at Ballylickey,“on stones in heathy places” and in “mountain marshes”. 

Would you enjoy venturing into this miniature world too? Order the book for €12 from and get a printed copy of the free leaflet with it. An Explorers’ Kit is available with leaflets on seaweeds and lichens as well as bryophytes, a hand lens on a lanyard, a tree trail and an all-important weatherproof map case to keep them clean and dry. The website also has information to explore botany further. 

You could take it all one step further, and use the Botanical Art Starter Pack to draw and paint mosses or Spring flowers in watercolours. The Pack contains everything you need, just add water and a moss, leaf or flower! Award-winning Irish botanical artist, Shevaun Doherty, who developed the pack for the Ellen Hutchins Festival, says, “botanical art takes time and practice but it is a wonderful way to observe and appreciate the natural world.” The Pack is available to buy from the website and since its launch in 2019 has been posted worldwide.

The Ellen Hutchins Festival will run again in Heritage Week, August 21-29. This year the focus of the (live or virtual) Festival will be on coastal and wetland wild flowers. Walks and sessions will either be led by botanists or available as self-guided DIY activities. A day-long online seminar is being planned on wild flowers associated with water, from upland streams to the sea. Speakers will be drawn from Irish and local experts. Finola Finlay of Roaringwater Journal and Wildflowers of West Cork will chair the day.

WCP Staff

WCP Staff Writer

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