Mud Dwellers are a Little Different

08 Dec

mud prints

Nature abhors a vacuum, including  muddy shores freshly exposed by the seasonal retreat of erstwhile shallow ponds.  Exposed barrens spell opportunity for ambitious pioneer species.   Colonization happens fast.  To meet plants you otherwise seldom encounter, don your boots and don’t sink in chin-deep.

There are no pre-existing competitors on new mud.  All newcomers can stake a claim.  Nobody is competitively excluded, so diversity abounds.  Let’s see, in the postage stamp mudhole I explored today I recall seeing (running out of fingers and toes) over 20 plant species.


Seedlings rising with no competition yet.  The last owner of that marine seashell was probably 15,000 years ago.

Who’s first to settle?  Floating plants carpet the receding water and are the first settlers, although the species composition shifts substantially.   The pudding-dwellers arrive for the most part floating as whole plants, or as little breakaway pups, or as fragments, or as seeds or spores.  The mud community is far more diverse than the species readily spotted afloat.

Green lowlifes on smelly mud take me back 470 million years to when plants originally strode forth from water to land.  Standing on the mud today was a window into pre-pre-history.  Look who we find, at least two examples of the most primitive still-existing plants, liverworts, straight out of a museum diorama.   I’ll bet today’s liverworts are almost unchanged from the first terrestrial plants, not counting bacteria and algae.

liverwort 1

Liverwort Riccia fluitans. Welcome to the time machine.  Bet it looked the same in the Ordovician Period.


Liverwort Riccia cavernosa.  Do the cavities facilitate gas exchange?  Any symbionts in there?   I’ve seen a lot of diatoms on/around this liverwort, but have no idea if that means anything.

The real fun is seeing who the castaways are and their adaptations to the mud world.  What are the facts of life on quicksand?  It is sopping wet, unless the sun bakes the surface dry.    The habitat is too suffocatingly soggy to invite extensive roots.    It smells like sulfur.   Nutrient acquisition must be a challenge.

At least one resident brings its own nutritional assistance.  The floating fern Azolla has folded into its leaves symbiotic nitrogen fixing Cyanobacteria, microbial fertilizer factories.   It can have all the nitrogen it wants.   The other floater in the photo below, Salvinia, has every third leaf modified into a big nutrient mop no doubt able to help with the fertilizer problem in its own fashion.

floating fern

Floating ferns love this stuff!  Salvinia with the big hairs on the right.  Azolla is on the left, with its internal Cyanobacteria.

The next rain spells doomsday for these precarious species, although each is ready for rainageddon in its own way.  They arrived floating, and can depart the same way, no problem?  What about those who came by seed and need to make new seeds?  They work fast.  The Pentodon in the photo below can bloom and fruit while still mere baby seedlings, not a moment to waste.   After that safe start,  the longer they live the bigger and more fecund they can be.

Pentodon pentandrus

Precocious Pentodon, flowering as a seedling.

The Ceratopteris ferns, water sprites, can float and make bulbils to disperse as clones, and even better, they mature from spores to reproducing adults in as little as three months to complete their sexual cycle.

Returning to seeds, one way to win a race is speed, as we just discussed, but there’s another way… a head start like the Nebraska Sooners.  Barnyard Grass, Echinochloa crus-galli,   jumps the gun by having the rare ability for its seeds to germinate in the absence of oxygen still submerged or buried in stinking mud.  That is why this grass is a pest in rice paddies.

Another response to re-rising water is to live with it. The Southern Marsh Yellow Cress, Rorippa teres,  sprouts all over the mud.  Not only does it flower and set seeds early in life, it can probably also live submerged if its relatives are a good measure.  Although I do not have data on this species per se, some of its close kin have survived and grown during underwater tests as long as three months.  Let it rain!




Posted by on December 8, 2018 in Uncategorized


9 responses to “Mud Dwellers are a Little Different

  1. FlowerAlley

    December 8, 2018 at 8:07 pm

    This was beautiful! Lovin’ some Liverwort.

  2. Steve

    December 9, 2018 at 6:07 am

    Very poetic George. I myself have been a mud dweller…

    • George Rogers

      December 9, 2018 at 9:20 am

      Hi Steve, You no doubt have been in up to your chin. Hope all’s reat down your way.

  3. theshrubqueen

    December 9, 2018 at 9:29 am

    Nice photography, loving the Liverworts.

    • George Rogers

      December 9, 2018 at 3:39 pm

      I’ve always had a special fondness for liverworts…so weird and under-noticed.

      • theshrubqueen

        December 9, 2018 at 5:28 pm

        Like me and greyhounds – you need a dog named Liverwort!

  4. George Rogers

    December 9, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    Well, I need a dog!

  5. Suellen

    December 9, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    Amazing photos. This reminds me I need to take more time to notice the world around me.

    • George Rogers

      December 9, 2018 at 6:39 pm

      Hi Suellen, You get around that world so much you will do a lot of noticing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: