Mosses of Cape Horn - World's Most Versatile Plant?: The Pulse of the Planet daily radio program offers free legal online mp3 downloads, exploring the world of sound in nature, culture and science, with audio adventures, world music, extraordinary sound portraits, science diaries, and nature ring-tones; an amazing sonic experience.

Airdate: Aug 24, 2010
Scientist: William Buck (Bill)

Mosses of Cape Horn - World's Most Versatile Plant?

Mosses of Cape Horn - World's Most Versatile Plant?
Traditional uses of mosses reveal some of their remarkable qualities.

Mosses of Cape Horn - World's Most Versatile Plant?


How many plants do you know of that could stay dried out in suspended animation for 50 years and then spring back to life with a sprinkle of water? Some mosses can do just that and that's not all they can do. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. William Buck is a curator at the NY Botanical Garden. He says that bioengineers are hoping to use mosses' genetic ability to survive without water to help increase the drought resistance of crops. It wouldn't be the first time humans have turned to mosses for help. During recent research trips to southern Chile, Dr. Buck came to know the indigenous Yahgan people who have used mosses traditionally for centuries.

"The Yahgan themselves are intimately knowledgeable about the plants and animals in their environment, and one of the ways in which they've used mosses, traditionally, is when they were building their canoes, they would bury tree bark in sphagnum moss, peat moss, over a season. Sphagnum can actually acidify the water in which it is present. Because of the acidity of sphagnum, the Yahgan would bury the bark of the southern beech, in their peat bogs and leave it there for close to a year, and when they dug it up, because of the acidity and the lack of decay within the sphagnum, the bark would become flexible without decaying. And, therefore, they could then form it into a canoe, which was their primary means of transportation."

The Yahgan aren't the only group to take advantage of the unique qualities of sphagnum moss.

"It also has antibacterial qualities so that, traditionally, even in the northern hemisphere, the Eskimos used it for diapers and menstrual pads. In World War I, sphagnum was gathered and turned into surgical bandages."

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