Botanical Illustrator and Natural History illustration: Mosses

Story posted: Wednesday, 8. April 2015 by Lizzie Harper

Natural history illustration involves drawing subjects that you’re not entirely confident about; and recently I had to complete botancial illustrations of two moss species for The Field Studies Council.

I was lucky enough to find both species growing on my local churchyard wall, but before drawing them up I needed to revise my moss anatomy!

Luckily, many years ago I did a diagram of moss for The Amateur Naturalist by Nick Baker so could refer to this.

Moss anatomy scientific diagram by lizzie Harper natural history illustration botanical illustration of Moss

Moss anatomy by Lizzie Harper, from "The Amateur Naturalist" by Nick Baker

Moss has a complex life cycle, alternating generations between gamete and spore producing structures.  From greenish threads, a moss produces simple leaves and stems, attached by root-like rhizoids.  These structures are called gametophytes and produce whorls of chlorophyll producing leaves from a central stem.   The male and female reproductive structures are carried at the tip of gametophyte branches.

The male reproductive structures, (the antheridium), produce mobile male gametes (antherozoids) which swim through moisture on the moss to fertilize the female organs, (the archegonium). At the base of each archegonium, an ovary awaits fertilization; the male gametes are attracted to the top of the structure chemically.  They swim down and fertilize the ovary.  So far so good.

The fertilized zygote then grows from the parent, almost as a parasite on it.  It sends up a slender stalk which bears a spore capsule at its tip.  This whole structure is called the sporophyte. The spore capsule ripens, and when mature the cap of the capsule is shed.  Under this is a lid which splits away.  Beneath the lid (hope you’re following this mossy game of pass-the-parcel) is a set of teeth, arranged in a spiral or circular pattern.  Humidity alters the movement of these hairs, and when conditions are right they flick out the ripe spores which go on to start germinate and produce a green thread-like mass, from which the new gametophyte grows.  Cycle complete.

Time to draw the pencil rough.

Moss anatomy scientific diagram by lizzie Harper natural history illustration botanical illustration of Moss

There were no sporophytes on my specimens, but luckily I had a decent field guide which allowed me to add them in.  A great book on mosses is “Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland: A Field Guide” by Atherton, Bosanquet & Lawley

The client approved the rough, and I got out my hand lens and smallest paintbrush.  It was actually rather wonderful to get lost in the intricacies of the moss structure, painting as well as observing though my 10X lens.

Lizzie Harper botanical illustrator natural history illustration of moss grimmia and tortula

Grimmia pulvinata and Tortula muralis

The finished result is something I’m pleased with.  I still have a long way to go before I reach the dizzy Bryological heights of expert moss illustrators such as the brilliant Christina Hart-Davies but as one new to painting mosses it was rather a wonderful start.

Moss illustration by Christina Hart Davies

Atrichum undulatum by Christina Hart-Davies

For much more on all things mossy, or bryological; please take a look at the website of the British Bryological Society

On another topic entirely, I'm afraid I've had to turn off the "comments" button on my blogs due to spamming.  If you would like to give any comments or feedback, please do so on my Facebook page or Twitter account or email me at  Many many thanks; and apologies.



Category:  Biological terminology   |   Comments:  0   |   Viewed:  6350

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