On the whole mosses grow in drier situations than the liverworts, and the arrangements they present for the conduction of water in the plant are also more complete and suggest in some cases comparisons with the higher plants. In spite of this, however, they are in great part dependent on the absorption of water through the general surface of the shoot, and the power of rapid imbibition possessed by their cell-walls, the crowded position of the small leaves on the stem, and special adaptations for the retention of water on the surface, have the same significance as in the foliose liverworts. The different appearance of exposed mosses in dry weather and after a shower illustrates this relation to the water supply. The protonema is always a well-marked stage in the life-history. Not only does a moss-plant never arise directly from the spore, but in all cases of vegetative reproduction, apart from the separation of branches by decay of older regions of the plant, a protonema is found. Usually the protonema is filamentous and ceases to be evident after the plants have developed. But in some small mosses (e.g. Ephemerum) it plays the chief part in assimilation and lives on from year to year.

In Sphagnum, Andreaea and some genera of the Bryales the protonema or some of its branches have the form of flat plates or masses of cells. The formation of the moss-plant on the protonema is always from a single cell and is similar in all mosses. The first three walls in this cell intersect one another, and define the three-sided pyramidal apical cell by means of which the shoot continues to grow. In Fissidens and a few other mosses the apical cell is two-sided. The leaves formed by the successive segments gradually attain their normal size and structure. Each segment of the initial cell gives rise to a leaf and a portion of the stem; the branches arise from the lower portion of a segment and stand immediately below a leaf. The leaves may form three vertical rows, but usually their arrangement, owing to the direction of the segment walls at the apex, becomes more complicated. Their growth proceeds by means of a two-sided apical cell, and the midrib does not become more than one cell thick until later. In addition to the leaves the stem often bears hair-like structures of different kinds, some of which correspond to modified branches of protonema. The branched filamentous rhizoids which spring from the lower region of the stem also correspond to protonemal branches.

The structure of both stem and leaf reaches a high grade of organization in some mosses. Not only are thick-walled sclerenchymatous cells developed to give rigidity to the periphery of the stem and the midrib of the leaf, but in many cases a special water-conducting tissue, consisting of elongated cells, the end walls of which are thin and oblique, forms a definite central strand in the stem. In the forms in which it is most highly developed (Polytrichaceae) this tissue, which is comparable with the xylem of higher plants, is surrounded by a zone of tissue physiologically comparable to phloem, and in the rhizome may be limited by an endodermis. The conducting strands in the leaves show the same tissues as in the central strand of the stem, and in the Polytrichaceae and some other mosses are in continuity with it. The independent origin of this conducting system is of great interest for comparison with the vascular system of the sporophyte of the higher plants.

The sexual organs, with the exception of the antheridia of Sphagnum, are borne at the apices of the main shoot or of branches. Their general similarity to the mature antheridia and archegonia of liverworts and the main difference in their development have been referred to. The antheridia open by means of a cap cell or groups of cells with mucilaginous contents. The details of construction of the sporogonium are referred to below. In all cases (except Archidium) a columella is present, and all the cells derived from the archesporium produce spores, no elaters being formed. In a few cases the germination of the spore commences within the capsule. The development of the sporogonium proceeds in all cases (except in Sphagnum) by means of an apical cell cutting off two rows of segments. The first periclinal division in the region forming the capsule separates an inner group of cells (the endothecium) form the peripheral layer (amphithecium). In Sphagnum, as in Anthoceros, the archesporium is derived from the amphithecium; in all other mosses it is the outermost layer of the endothecium.

Vegetative propagation is widely spread in the mosses, and, as mentioned above, a protonema is always formed in the development of the new plant. The social growth of the plants characteristic of many mosses is a result of the formation of numerous plants on the original protonema and on developments from the rhizoids. Besides this, gemmae may be formed on the protonema, on the leaves or at the apex, and some mosses have specialized shoots for their better protection or distribution. Thus in Georgia the stalked, multicellular gemmae are borne at the ends of shoots surrounded by a rosette of larger leaves, and in Aulacomnium androgynum they are raised on an elongated leafless region of the shoot. In other cases detached leaves or shoots may give rise to new plants, and when a moss is artificially divided almost any fragment may serve for reproduction.

Even in those rare cases in which the sexual generation can be developed without the intervention of spore production from the tissues of the sporogonium, a protonema is formed from cut pieces of the seta or in some cases from intact sporogonia still attached to the plant. This phenomenon of apospory was first discovered in mosses, but is now also known in a number of ferns (see Pteridophyta).

Fig. 13.  Sphagnum acutifolium.

Fig. 13. - Sphagnum acutifolium. (After Schimper.)

A. Longitudinal section of apex of a bud bearing archegonia (ar), enclosed by the large leaves (y); ch, small perichaetial leaves.

B. Longitudinal section of the sporogonium borne on the pseudopodium (ps); c, calyptra; ar, neck of archegonium; sg′, foot; sg, capsule.

C. S. squarrosum. Ripe sporogonium raised on the pseudopodium (qs) above the enclosing leaves (ch); c, the ruptured calyptra; sg, capsule; d, operculum.