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Friends of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden
Native Plant Sale

Every Thursday







The garden is located at the intersection of Wildcat Canyon Road and South Park Drive in Tilden Regional Park near Berkeley, CA


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February 2016

Sex and the Single Moss

By Brent D. Mishler, PhD

Syntrichia caninervis  John Game

Have you ever thought about how difficult sexual reproduction is for a desert moss? They retain the primitive reproductive system of their aquatic ancestors, with swimming male gametes that need to go many times their own length to find a female gamete—an egg cell, retained in the female sex organ (the archegonium). This requires a film of liquid water, a rare occurrence in the desert. If the male sex organ (the antheridium) is produced on the same gametophyte (the green, haploid phase in the lifecycle) as the female one, termed monoicy, crossing is easier but results in a completely homozygous sporophyte (the diploid generation formed after a successful fertilization), thus is essentially asexual reproduction. If the male and female sex organs are borne on different plants (termed dioicy), then crossing results in a new genetic individual but is much more difficult to achieve.

The desiccation-tolerant desert moss Syntrichia caninervis has been investigated by a research group consisting of Lloyd Stark (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), Nick McLetchie (University of Kentucky), myself, and many others over a period of nearly 20 years. It is a dominant in the Mojave and Great Basin deserts. Not just a dominant moss, but a dominant plant with perhaps the greatest amount of ground cover of any plant in these communities. One might think of Great Basin sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) as having the greatest cover in dry valleys of Nevada and Utah, but Syntrichia caninervis grows under every bush, and the space in between them too. It covers a high percent of the soil surface as part of the cryptobiotic soil crust.

How did a moss achieve such a smashing success in a harsh environment? Apparently not via sexual reproduction! It is a dioicious species, and our studies show that sporophytes are quite rare. It is a red-letter day when you find one in most locations. Male plants themselves are quite rare—this species has one of the most skewed sex ratios known in plants, with as many as 20 females for every male! We don't yet know exactly the basis for this biased sex ratio. Maybe males are really there in equal proportions, just less prone to produce their sex organs (the "shy male" hypothesis). Or alternatively, the males tend to die at some step in development (the "rare male" hypothesis).

My former PhD student Kirsten Fisher, now a professor at Cal State Los Angeles, and her students (the third generation of Syntrichia caninervis aficionados!) are investigating this question using modern genomic tools. One of her students, Amber Paasch, led a study using microsatellite DNA markers (reported in the International Journal of Plant Sciences) that confirmed a highly clonal population structure in these mosses. Others of her students, Jenna Baughman and Israel Jimenez, have helped to develop sex-linked molecular markers that will allow identification of any developmental stage as male or female.

These molecular tools, coupled with careful ecological studies in the field and developmental studies in the lab, should allow us to finally understand just how this moss is able to thrive in such an unexpected habitat.  ♦


Valentine’s Weekend Special Sale at Native Here Nursery

Join us for our late winter sale at Native Here Nursery!

Saturday and Sunday, February 13 and 14, 10 am–2 pm

On Saturday, February 13, CNPS members can enter the sale an hour early at 9 am. If you’re not yet a member, you can sign up at the entrance.

February is one of the best times to get almost anything planted before the rains end. Come and enjoy this great opportunity to get first pick of Native Here Nursery’s new crop of manzanitas, milkweeds, early annuals, irises, and more.

Local plant experts will be on hand to answer your questions about the best plants to choose for your garden. Whether you’re a veteran native plant gardener or brand new to gardening, you’ll be sure to find something beautiful at Native Here Nursery to brighten your yard and invite the wild back into your life.

Native Here Nursery
101 Golf Course Road, Berkeley
Located in Tilden Regional Park, across from the entrance to the Tilden Park Golf Course

For more information, visit or contact the nursery at or (510)549-0211.

Native Here Nursery is a project of the East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Native Here is dedicated to growing beautiful, locally native plants from seed and cuttings collected under permit in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.



Upcoming Classes
Click here for full descriptions of the classes as well as the class registration form.
January 17


Mushrooms! A First Dive into the Fungal Kingdom Class is Full
January 31 thru mid-July Taxonomy Master Class in California Plant Families, Part 1 Space Available
January 24, February 6 & 20, March 5 Conifers of the World Space Available
April 23, May 7 & 21 & June 4 Conifers of California Space Available
February 7 Seed Propagation of California Natives Class is Full
March 6 Year of the Lichen Space Available
March 19 Listening to the Birds Space Available
March 31, April 7 & April 14 Designing a Native Garden Space Available
March 26, April 9
& 30, May 14
Wildflower Hotspots



Space Available
March 28- April 2 Desert Wildflowers of Anza Borrego State Park Class is Full
April 3

Plant Portraits and Garden Images – Photo Workshop

Space Available
April 17 Bee-friendly Habitat Gardening in California Space Available