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Macoun's Shining Moss

A lucky find in the 1860s

 

“Lightning never strikes the same place twice”, or so the saying goes.

Or does it?!  In this case, the “lightning strike” refers to a species of moss, Neomacounia nitida. Believe it or not, the only two instances in which this species was collected were in 1862 and 1864 by the renowned naturalist and botanist, John Macoun. 

It was found near Macoun’s hometown of Belleville, Ontario, and never seen again – something that is highly surprising … pretty unheard of! 

Macoun became the first Curator of the National Herbarium of Canada in 1881 at what is now the Canadian Museum of Nature. He collected astounding volumes of specimens, under field conditions that many would now consider to be unthinkable, walking (for example) great distances along rutted, muddy, and/or flooded roads behind the wagons that carried his supplies, and facing mosquitoes “in such numbers that they actually obscured the sunset”.

© Canadian Museum of Nature

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One of the specimens of Macoun’s Shining Moss in the National Herbarium of Canada (CANM 159464)

Neomacounia nitida has been described by scientists based on the few specimens that Macoun collected on those two occasions. What you see here is pretty much all we have to go on!  It is fairly large (about 6 cm) among mosses, with erect leaves and capsules.

Since Macoun’s time, many hopeful bryologists (moss experts and enthusiasts) have kept their eyes open for Macoun’s Shining Moss, without any luck at finding it.  For now, it’s officially considered to be extinct.

Someone may yet find it, if they keep their eyes open.

The lesson here: Look on trees, in swamps…but most of all, LOOK.  You never know what you may find.

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Interested in learning more about John Macoun, who has contributed immensely to our knowledge of the flora of Canada? Read the biography of this Canadian explorer and botanist.  

 

© Canadian Museum of Nature

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The hand-written label shows that this specimen was originally labelled incorrectly, as Leptodon trichomitrion (a.k.a. Fan Moss). More than a century later, the Museum’s former Curator of Bryology (the study of mosses) realized that this envelope didn’t contain Fan Moss at all! Instead it was the second-known collection of the moss we now know as Neomacounia nitida (Macoun’s Shining Moss). The Curator, Dr. Robert Ireland, officially described the genus Neomacounia, and named it in honour of John Macoun.