Field of Science

Lichens in the Forests of Norway

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchSince some of my blog posts have discussed moss gardening in relation to conservation and stewardship, Dr. Elphick recommended an article on lichen conservation. I checked it out and decided to share some of the interesting highlights. (For a review of lichen biology see my posts from October.)

Caruso, A., J. Rudolphi, and G. Thor. 2008. Lichen species diversity and substrate amounts in young planted boreal forests: A comparison between slash and stumps of Picea abies. Biological Conservation 141:47-55.

This study examines the lichens that grow on dead wood in managed forests. The dead wood consists of branches and tree tops (slash) as well as stumps. Forest managers are interested in using this wood for biofuel and this research study explores how this removal will impact the lichen communities.

Out of the 60 species of lichens that were found growing on the slash and stumps, 42 of these species were only found growing on these substrates in the forest. They were not found growing on any of the live trees. Additionally, the stumps had more unique lichen species than the slash. This is most likely due to the larger moisture holding capacity, higher surface area, and greater texture (nooks and crannies) of the stumps. Thus this dead wood represents a important growing surface for lichens and should be taken into account for lichen conservation.

Decaying wood is also a substrate for mosses on the forest floor. I think that it would be interesting to see if many species of mosses grow exclusively on decaying wood similar to lichens. This would lend support to the idea that dead wood should not be removed from the forest floor for biofuel, since it provides a critical substrate for forest organisms.

Mosses on TV

I was watching television yesterday after dinner with my family and saw a program featuring mosses. Okay, maybe featuring is a bit of an exaggeration, but mosses were mentioned a couple of times and how often do you see mosses on TV anyway. Needless to say, I was pretty excited!

The show that we watched was on PBS entitled Playing with Trains in the Garden. The segment featured Paul Busse who is a landscape architect using natural materials to build public garden exhibits that feature replicas of local buildings and miniature working trains. The show went behind the scenes to his workshop in Kentucky where the displays are built. They showed how the raw materials, such as moss, are collected from the forest and then assembled by his team to make the displays. It is quite the process and his team is made up of really great artisans! They used the moss to fill in any cracks or chinks in the buildings. One artisan had a great line about moss, (paraphrased, I am not good at direct quotes from memory.) 'Mosses fill up all the little spaces and hide the blemishes. I wish that I could use moss in all areas of my life.' That was the best moss comment the entire show and a nice sentiment as well.

I also looked around online to find a video of Busse's displays. There are several videos on his company's website, Applied Imagination and many photographs of the displays that they have made. I also found a video on YouTube entitled Busse's Enchanted Express by Randy Walk at the Columbus Dispatch. It is a really nice video and features the display at the Franklin Park Conservatory. The version from YouTube is posted below the fold.

Journal Article on Growing Moss Plants

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchWhile thinking about growing mosses from scratch I remembered a helpful article that I read a while back by Dr. Jonathan Shaw. The article discusses techniques for growing mosses on soil. One of the most interesting methods that he used was a blender to grind the plants up. The plants were kept moist by an automatic misting machine, not by individual domes as I use to grow moss. He found that the mosses began to form protonema in two weeks and within three months the pots were full of leafy gametophytes.

Protonema are a plant growth stage that is unique to mosses. When the spores find a suitable location to grow they do not immediately produce leafy gametophytes. First they make a filamentous growth stage that is reminiscent of green algae. From the protonema numerous gametophytes are produced. Thus one spore can produce many leafy individuals that are genetically identical. In most species the protonema die off and the leafy plants are no longer connected. The protonema pictured here are from the moss Aphanorrhegma serratum, which I grew in the lab.

Overall I think that this is a really good article and I would recommend it for anyone who is growing mosses for research or gardening purposes.

Shaw, J. 1986. A New Approach to the Experimental Propagation of Bryophytes. Taxon 35(4):671-675.

Here is a list of the moss species that Dr. Shaw was able to grow using the methods outlined in his journal article.

Atrichum angustatum
Brachythecium salebrosum
Bryum argenteum
B. bicolor
Climacium americanum
Ditrichum lineare
Isopterygium pulchellum
Leucobryum albidum
Scopelophila cataractae
Thuidium delicatulum
Weissia controversa

Growing Mosses in the Laboratory

Here is a shot of the light cart that I am growing my mosses on in the lab. Dr. Schlichting graciously lent me this awesome piece of equipment. It has three banks of lights, one of which I am currently using. I am in the process of expanding my moss research colony so that it will soon occupy all three levels. The lights are on a timer and are set for 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of darkness. The mosses had plenty of light during the summer sitting out on the windowsill, but with the winter months the needed more light to achieve optimal growth.

The soil on which I am growing my mosses on is a mix that is made in the EEB Plant Growth Facilities at the University of Connecticut. We have spectacular greenhouses on campus and a great greenhouse staff! If you are ever in the area you should stop by to visit the greenhouses. They are free and open to the public.

The recipe for the soil mix is as follows:

Rich Sandy Loam
3 gal. loam
71/2 gal. peat
3 gal. leaf mold
3 gal. sand
10 Tbs. lime

The quantities are pretty large. They mix this up in the greenhouse and store it in garbage can sized containers. Scaling back would probably be best for at home use.

Growing plants indoors in the winter

If you decide to start landscaping with some local moss and want to start some indoors over the winter to plant out in the spring I have some recommendations. Typically moss does not require much sunlight. That is why it is usually found growing in shady areas of the lawn. If you are planning a pot full of moss to add to your indoor houseplant collection, no additional light is needed. However if you are planning to grow moss in bulk to plant outside later, additional light during the winter is a good idea.

For lighting at home I recently purchased a grow lamp for my cactus. It is a totem pole cactus (Pachycereus schottii var. monstrosus) that I bought as a souvenir from the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum when I was visiting Tuscon last spring. If you ever have a chance to visit it is a great outdoor exhibit of plants and animals. Not much moss on display, though there are desert species of moss. During a Connecticut winter, the light is not very strong and I thought that my cactus could use more brightness. This cactus is quite the crazy mutant! It lacks spines and has a few small bristles, basically none that can hurt you which is a great feature. I also think that the overall bumpy shape is great! This type of cactus is native to the Baja California Peninsula portion of the Sonoran Desert.

Overall this grow lamp is working out well for my cactus and I think that it would be good to stimulate indoor moss growth as well.

Growing Moss

I have been thinking about moss gardening lately and the challenges associated with this pastime. Questions have arisen such as: What do you do when there is no landscaper in your area to purchase moss from and you want to grow local species? One technique that I have been using in the laboratory might also work for those who wish to garden with moss.

I am growing mosses in these little plastic containers (see photo) with the edges sealed by plastic wrap. I think that larger seed starter trays would work as well. The main item of importance is that they have a lid so that the moisture does not escape.I have started mosses on soil in two ways.
1) I sprinkle spores out of a capsule onto the soil.
2) I take leafy gametophyte plants and grind them in some water using a mortar and pestle. Then I apply the moss slurry onto the soil surface.
In both cases I add some water and seal the lids. In several weeks the leafy gametophytes begin to grow.

I currently have my mosses growing on a light cart that gives them 12 hours of light a day. During the summer I have them sitting in a windowsill in the lab with no additional light.
I am currently growing three moss species on soil in the lab (Funaria hygrometrica, Physcomitrium pyriforme, and Physcomitrella patens). I have not tried this technique with other species, but I have confidence that it would work. If anyone decides to give it a try I would love to hear about the results.

More comments on moss gardening to come!

Think Local

Ideally when landscaping with any plants, including moss, you will want to find a local retailer that is selling native species. Those are species that naturally occur in your area. These plants have not been introduced purposefully or accidentally by humans into the wild. Not that there are any aggressive invasive moss species. (I don't know of any invasive mosses off the top of my head, but I will look into it more.) Needless to say, you do not want to be the first person to release the moss version of purple loostrife or kudzu into the wild, which are both invasive species in North America. It is also important that retailers you might buy moss from are growing it themselves. Removing large patches of moss from the wild and then selling them is bad. They should have actively growing populations of mosses that they are propagating to sell.

If you live in Connecticut, or in the surrounding small states, I have heard of a place to find mosses to use in the garden. The retailer is Sticks and Stones Farm in Newtown, Connecticut. I have yet to visit personally, but it comes highly recommended. They sell seven different species of moss that can be ordered online. Moss is grown in flats outside and they do not poach from the wild, which gets a two thumbs up from me. If anyone has visited the farm I would love to hear your thoughts or comments on your experience. I will definitely let you all know if I have a chance to visit.

Moss Gardening Book

This is the book to have if you are interested in using moss in your garden. There is not another book quite like it or any alternatives. Overall I really like this book. There are great photographs throughout the book. It begins by introducing you to mosses in a biological manner and points out what things are and aren't moss. That is where I usually start when giving a presentation about moss and I think that it is a good approach. He transitions into the history of moss gardening both in Japan and in Western countries. Good locations for growing moss are discusses as well as propagation techniques. My favorite chapter is Chapter 14, entitled Portraits. This chapter introduces the reader to 70 different species of moss, lichen, and liverwort. There are brief descriptions of the species and the habitats in which they grow. Fun facts and antidotes about some of the species are also included.

The main thing that this book is missing is a section on conservation. Encouraging people to garden with moss is great! But it is also important to encourage people to be good stewards of the moss that grows wild on their property or in surrounding areas. Removal of small pieces of mosses (think the size of a quarter or dime) from an area will most likely not damage the moss community. However large patches of mosses should not be removed from any surface, either tree bark, stone, decaying wood or soil. Basically large patch removal (saucer to dinner plate size) is the equivalent of strip mining in the moss world. If more moss than a small patch is needed to transplant or make a moss slurry (see pg 158 in the book), I would recommend collecting patches from several different places across a larger area. That way there is moss close to the open patches that can grow to fill the space. I think that conservation and stewardship are important topics to think about in the context of gardening with moss. I hope that everyone who gardens with moss or enjoys them in the out of doors will also think of what they can do to protect and care for these great little plants.

Moss Gardening: Including Lichens, Liverworts and Other Miniatures By George Schenk