Country diary: moss so fresh and springy you want to dive right in

Creedy Valley, Devon: Among the riot of blossom and birdsong, common tamarisk moss is a constant presence, yet astounding in its intricacy

Underfoot, a leafy sea is stirring. Gradients of green lap against each other where the woodland mosses mingle. In a sheltered patch beneath oak and willow, Thuidium tamariscinum (common tamarisk moss) forms a loose mat. Plants curve and layer into and over each other, leaving an overriding impression of motion even as they grow fixed.

Mosses rarely take the limelight, but the common tamarisk is one of the most distinctive, with its bright variations of green and fern-like shoots. Often it is a light yellowish-green, citrusy in colour – in more ways than one, inhabiting the light of a lime. Many times I have held this moss in my palm, smoothed over its leaves, brushed against it on foot – from childhood encounters in my Devon garden, to later meetings, lush and layered in woodlands or in sprinkled patches in cities.

It’s a widespread moss, found throughout the year in woodland, hedgebanks and grassland in damp places. While May is a riot of flower and song – flushed with blossom and flashes of migrant birds returning – I am perhaps most comforted by the sight of these mosses: lower and grounding, constant, yet astounding in their intricate patterns and captures of light.

There are around a thousand species of bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts) in the UK. Sphagnum mosses play an important role in storing carbon in peat bogs and, last month, the Peat Free April campaign called for a complete ban on peat compost sales in the UK. Other mosses, growing close by, like the common tamarisk, soak up rainfall, building life from bare ground and providing homes for invertebrates.

In between the waves of green, several springtails take startling leaps – once again, motion seems to be this fixed ground’s leitmotif. At a time when our human movement has been restricted, these mosses both echo and confound our situation. Present year-round, they share our local attachment to place. Yet, with their springing critters, shining shoots and overlapping greens, they invite us to plunge in, if only with the balls of our feet, to their fruity, freshening leaf.

• Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary


Elizabeth-Jane Burnett

The GuardianTramp

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