Report of my spore germination experiment

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Hello everyone, last spring I had my first sporophytes on Sphagnum. They appeared on Sphagnum fimbriatum, a monoicous species. This means a single plant can produce both male and female reproductive cells (Both eggs and sperm cells). In order to have sporophytes on the dioicous Sphagnum species, you will need both a female and a male clone, but not for this S. fimbriatum. I decided to do a little experiment and grow Sphagnum from spores. While looking in the literature I read this article:  'Habitat requirements for establishment of Sphagnum from spores' (Sundberg et al., 2002). The authors found out that Sphagnum spore germination is limited by nutrients (phosphate). This means that Sphagnum spores germinate on places where there are more nutrients then where adult Sphagnum plants occur (usually nutrient-poor soils). I decided to do the experiment in three different setups. 3 small containers with blonde peat that has been cooked to kill all spores present. In one I added fertilzer but no spores, in the other I added spores of S. fimbriatum but no fertiliser and in the last one, both spores and fertilser (really low amount) was added. The experiment started somewhere halfway june 2017. Now we are 5 months further. Cooking the peat seemed effective as no growth is observed in the container without sown  spores. Also the outcome of this little experiment is perfectly in line with Sundberg et al.: not a single spore germinated on bare peat without any nutrients available.

This is how the containers looked like 5 months ago:

2017_08_28 (10)

How they look like today (the container on the bottom contains nutrients and spores, in both others not a single plant appeared)

2017_11_14 (2)

They are still not looking like adult Sphagnum, but last week I could watch them under a microscope and they show the typical characteristic hyaline cell structure like any other Sphagnum, so now I'm finally sure it's not a random moss.


Now I'll show some pictures from the development of the little plants.

Sporophytes are almost ripe, 7th of June


First germination a month after sowing: these are really small thallose protonemata from Sphagnum fimbriatum, 17th of July


Growth of the protonemata 2 months after sowing, 14th of August

DSC_0418 crop

Development of the gametophyte on a protonema, 28th of August 

2017_08_28 (2) crop scherpDSC_0436 crop

Young gametophytes, 11th of October

2017_10_11 (1) crop scherp

Young gametophytes of S. fimbriatum 5 months after sowing, 4 months after germination, 14th of November.

2017_11_14 (5) crop scherp

I consider this experiment as over now, but I might add a picture once the plants shows adult characteristics of S. fimbriatum.

Enjoy the pictures, I had a lot of fun following up these little creatures!

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Hi Koen,

Thank you for posting this, I find it infinitely interesting and it is just another amazing and weird thing that happens in nature.

It makes you think the young moss might only survive if the nutrients are washed out after they start growing, or they might only germinate in areas that get some kind of one-off dose of nutrients, like an out-of-the-ordinary animal poop?

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Thanks, and indeed Karsty, that is what the authors of the article propose. They tried out natural resources of phosphorus like moose dung and birch litter, both setups gave germination. Contrary to big seeds, small spores don't have a reserve amount of nutrients with them. It isn't too surprising that they need some help to get started.

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