Wall-screw moss glistening with water droplets
Magnified moss

Tortula moss, Netherlands

You may be surprised to learn that this elegant plant dappled with water droplets is a variety of moss: Tortula muralis, better known as wall-screw moss. It's found all over the world, even in urban areas where more sensitive mosses have a hard time thriving because of dry soil and air pollution. Mosses in general are accurate monitors of air pollution—they absorb air and water, so contaminants can also be measured in their cells.

Wall-screw moss is just one of 15,000 to 25,000 species of moss, ancient plants that date back 450 million years. The hardy bunch have weathered climate swings for eons, capable of surviving in icy tundra or scorching desert plains. They don't have roots—instead, they absorb moisture through hairlike rhizoids (which also act as anchors) on their surface. This ability to suck in water so efficiently makes mosses among the first plants to recover from forest fires or extreme heat, spreading out to stabilize the soil and keep it hydrated for other plants.

How appropriate, then, that our photograph captured raindrops on the moss. This is a perfect example of what's known as macro photography, when the image is many times larger than life-size. All the better to enjoy the delicate beauty of nature.