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Furman - Reasons for Mossy Smiles


A day in the life of a mosser offers many mossy smiles and such was the case on Wednesday, January 5, 2011 for me. Six months ago, Mountain Moss installed a moss feature at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. It is the First Moss Garden at a major university in the USA. It exemplifies that mosses will indeed grow under extreme conditions if the right mosses are used and a consistent watering routine is followed. The true test of success is the sustainability of the mosses featured... not only to survive but to prosper and thrive.

Skeptics have doubted that mosses can be intentionally introduced and featured in gardens, especially if located in the sun. To further challenge this moss landscaper, intense temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit in July 2010 seemed imposing during this 350 sq. ft. installation. Around here, people expect mosses in the mountains but they're doubtful that mosses could grow in the Upstate or Piedmont areas of the South. Yet, many of the very same mosses can be found growing in micro-niches of moisture in flatland locations.

As I entered the Furman campus, the drab winter colors were a dramatic contrast to the usual vibrant colors of the meticulously maintained landscape. Only a few purple pansies provided a welcoming winter burst of color. The expansive green lawns of warm weather grasses had transitioned to a dull, drab yellow that lasts from early December until late April. As I exited my truck, I looked across an expanse of brown catching a glimpse of bright green... the moss garden nestled in the dip. My first reason for a mossy smile.

The overall appearance is green but as I approached I could see that mosses are going through their own transitions. To the untrained eye, these differences might not even be noticed. To others unfamiliar with reproductive stages or growth patterns, it might appear as if the mosses are suffering. Although the mosses were dry from lack of recent rainfall and the interruption of my recommended watering regime due to freezing temperatures, each and every bryophyte type is exhibiting positive growth.

Remember mosses don't follow typical seasons and adjacent colonies may be in different reproductive stages during the same time frame illustrated by these Atrichum colonies.

Concerned with the drastictly dead look of the Climacium, I took a closer look and to my delight I found the understory was brilliant green with new growth thickly matted below the towering old growth gametes that are now dull green and brownish. Multiple reasons for a mossy smile.

Dicranum is the brightest green of all the mosses in contrast with a section of Leucobryum mounds so white with leaf fragments that it appears covered in a dusting of snow. This asexual stage will continue for a while as leaf tips break off and spread in the wind to new locations with the potential for creating new plants. Fragmented reasons for a mossy smile.

Getting closer to the mosses, I am delighted to see sporophytes on several types. When I touched the sporophytes on another mound of Leucobryum, to my surprise, a small cloud of spores exploded through my fingertips. I couldn't resist gently brushing the capsules a few more times to marvel at this process. Yet, another reason for a mossy smile.

The Furman University Moss Garden is truly thriving despite:

  • Exposed to average daily temperatures in the 90s for the first month
  • Rain water rushing through the middle section during intense downpours
  • Sub-freezing temperatures
  • Removal of two of the three canopy trees with the consequential disaster of sawdust covering the mosses.

My hat is off to Sheree Wright, the gardener at Furman in charge of this project. She religiously followed my recommended watering and maintenance regime. She even took off her shoes, as requested, to walk on the mosses to help them get established during the early phases. She has blown leaves away and hand-picked out annoying small weeds that have appeared. She's carefully replaced small patches that have disturbed by squirrels. She has made sure that the timed watering system continued to function with minimal interruptions to the routine. This type of care and attention is key to ensuring long-term success. Thanks Sheree... for another reason for a mossy smile.

I am aware of moss gardens that have been attempted by others that did not end in success. There could be many reasons for these failures. The assumption that mosses will grow without any supplemental actions, like appropriate watering methodology, has hampered these efforts by general landscapers that don't understand the nuances of mosses in contrived spaces. Expertise regarding required maintenance and the ability to recognize whether changes in appearance imply death, dormancy or a transitioning reproductive states is essential. So, my instruction with Sheree continues as she learns to identify and understand the differences between bryophyte types and their ever-changing looks. For instance, I pointed out that the Thuidium is going through a “yellow” stage but it will rebound back with green. In fact, this Fern moss will probably exhibit expansive, almost invasive growth during winter months. No need to worry... a mossy smile appears again.

As I photographed close-ups of various mosses, a passerby stopped to compliment the moss garden. She has always loved mosses and appreciated the various textures and shades of green. But her comment that she could, “...see that I'm a real moss artist” meant the most to me. Riding back up the mountain, my spirit was soaring with the sure success of Furman's Moss Garden. Definite reasons for lots of BIG MOSSY SMILES!

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