Splachnum luteum, splachnum rubrum – they sound intriguing, don’t they? These moss species are beautiful. When they’re fruiting, these splachnum species look like they have a cluster of tiny umbrellas waving from a mossy base.
One might expect that they would be named Umbrella Moss or Fairy Parasol, and indeed, these are common names for these beauties. The other name? It’s less gorgeous but probably more accurate: Moosedung Moss.
Manure is a Rich Growth Medium
You see, these mosses like to grow on ungulate dung, otherwise known as moose manure. Why dung? It’s a rich medium for growth.
In spite of its unsavory reputation in the human world, dung is high in nitrogen, one of the nutrients that’s essential for plant growth. Even humans use dung as a fertilizer, although it generally comes from animals other than moose.
While the nitrogen content of the manure from different animals varies, moose manure is often a little higher than that from cows, clocking in at 2.5 percent nitrogen. Splachnum rubrum will also grow on the delicious bits left over after owls regurgitate their food: the bones and hair in owl pellets.
Animal manure is also useful because it’s full of moisture. In some places, particularly in the summer months, it can be difficult for plants to find moisture.
Some plants grow on rotting logs, while others grow beside streams or ponds. This moss has a different habitat: moisture-rich manure. As it decomposes, the manure also adds complexity to the soil. Partially-digested bits of plant material add organic material.