Mosses are soft, green, and tough as nails, as shown in a recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (prestigious, high impact journal with a rather unfortunate acronym).
Dr. Catherine La Farge and associates, from the University of Alberta, visited a remote glacier on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut while studying the wild, wide world of arctic bryophyte systematics. Bryophytes are ancient, non-vascular, non-flowering plants – mosses and liverworts, mostly.
Long story short, they harvested bits of moss that had been trapped in ice for about 400 years and were now exposed. Several species were collected, taken back to the lab, ground up, placed on growing media in a growth chamber, and they soon had mosses galore.
This is fascinating on several levels, as pointed out by the authors. One is the power of totipotency – the ability of a cell to “de-differentiate into a meristematic state that can then reprogram the cell for development of the organism” a la stem cells. Another is the mosses’ ability to “shut down” when dry and “revive when conditions are favorable” (like not frozen in ice for 400 years?!)
The article also graphs the disturbingly accelerating rate of retreat of the Teardrop Glacier, where the mosses were collected. Aargh. The window of favorable conditions may not be open long for these little wonders.