Syntrichia papillosa (Wilson) Jur.
Common names: marble screw-moss
The relatively large brood-bodies on the leaves of Syntrichia papillosa are visible with the naked eye or through a hand-lens.
The green to brown-green plants of S. papillosa grow together in loose tufts or patches on the bark of trees. The stems are short, 2–8 mm high, and the leaves are incurved and slightly twisted when dry, and spreading to wide spreading when moist. The leaves are shaped like a broad spatula, with plane to incurved margins when dry, and a short, yellowish hair-point formed by the protruding nerve. The nerve or mid-rib has spinose papillae on the dorsal surface and produces small, round, green to brown brood-bodies on the ventral surface. The upper leaf cells are hexagonal with single, spinose papillae on the dorsal surface only. The spore-bearing generation is not known in southern Africa.
This species is infrequently collected, not only in southern Africa, but also in countries such as England and Ireland. It is probably overlooked by collectors as it blends in with the bark on which it grows, especially in the dry condition. I, therefore, suspect that the species is more abundant in southern Africa than the herbarium records suggest. New records have recently been reported from the Northern Cape Province of South Africa and Namibia. It is widespread in southern Africa and therefore, not of conservation concern.
Distribution and habitat
This distinctive species is known from the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western and Eastern Cape Provinces of South Africa. It is also known from the neighboring countries of Lesotho and Namibia. Syntrichia papillosa is also found in Kenia, Europe, North and South America, Falkland Islands, Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand.
Syntrichia papillosa is epiphytic and grows on the bark of indigenous as well as cultivated trees in dry woodlands and forests at 300–2 100 m.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Syntrichia is from the Greek syn, meaning ‘plus’, and trichos, meaning ‘hair’, alluding to the twisted peristome teeth united by a high basal membrane. The specific epithet papillosa refers to the distinctive spinose papillae on the dorsal surface of the leaf.
Syntrichia papillosa is separated from other South African species of the genus by the single, spinose papilla on the dorsal surface of leaf cells, spinose papillae on the dorsal surface of the midrib and the spherical brood-bodies produced on the ventral surface of the midrib.
The genus Syntrichia is cosmopolitan in distribution and contains about 90 species of which 23 occur in Africa and the East African islands and 15 are found in South Africa.
Syntrichia papillosa belongs to the Pottiaceae, a family found in harsh environments. The incurled leaves and leaf margins of the dry plants, as well as the papillae, hair-point and brood-bodies of the leaves, are thought to be adaptations that reduce water loss, protect from sun damage, and facilitate water uptake and retention in the dry habitat on tree bark.
The production of multicellular brood-bodies on the leaves of S. papillosa is a means of asexual reproduction.
Records of local uses of this moss are lacking.
Growing Syntrichia papillosa
As an epiphyte, Syntrichia papillosa has very specific habitat requirements making it difficult to cultivate.
- Glime, Janice M. 2007. Bryophyte Ecology. Volume 1. Physiological Ecology. Ebook sponsored by Michigan Technological University and the International Association of Bryologists. accessed on8 December 2014 at http://www.bryoecol.mtu.edu/
- Magill, R.E. 1981. Flora of southern Africa, Part 1 Musci, Fascicle 1 Sphagnaceae–Grimmiaceae. Botanical Research Institute, Pretoria.
- Mishler, B.D. 2007. Syntrichia Bridel. In: Flora of North America North of Mexico, Volume 27, Bryophyte, part 1, edited by Flora of North America Editorial Committee. Oxford University Press, New York.
Jacques van Rooy
National Herbarium/ Biosystematics Research & Biodiversity Collections
Plant Type: Epiphyte, Moss
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape, Western Cape
Gardening skill: Challenging