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Mountain Moss — #moss


Mosses for Bonsai 0

Spurred by a recent question from a Bonsai enthusiast in Wilmington, NC, let's discuss this art form and how mosses can enhance these miniature landscapes that feature trees. The textures of varied mosses and shapes of mounds and green carpets underneath these tiny trees help emulate the desired effect of a natural environment. The Art of Bonsai is found world-wide today. True Bonsai creations are not dwarfs but normal trees that are trained to stay small through the expertise and patience of Bonsai gardeners. You may choose to grow Bonsai either inside your home or outside in your garden. Serious Bonsai followers spend years perfecting their art and strive to incorporate the methods of the masters.

The origin of Bonsai (pronounced bone-sigh) is cloaked in myths but it is commonly accepted that the technique began in China over a thousand years ago during the Han Dynasty. Zen Buddhist monks introduced these tree containers and diminutive landscapes to Japan where it progressed through the monasteries and became was a privilege of the rich sometime during the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333). Later the art of Bonsai was embraced and treasured by the general public. Native trees such as maples, azaleas, and pines were gathered from nearby forests as the focal features. As the art developed, these trees were manipulated with wires and skewers to fashion gnarled shapes. Ranging from a couple of inches to several feet, trees were trained to grow slowly and to keep their small size.

In America today, Bonsai continues to grow in popularity as a lifelong hobby. There are many approaches and schools of thought but true Bonsai are real trees trained to stay small not genetically-engineered dwarfs or root starts. If you purchase one of these “Bonsai” plants or dwarf trees from a garden center or nursery, it can serve as the beginning of your Bonsai adventure. However, it takes years of practice and lots of patience if you follow prescribed methods to achieve Bonsai authenticity.

Whether you are a Bonsai master or a novice, mosses will complement your tree or landscape.

The gardener's adage of right place, right plant applies in the world of Bonsai. Not every moss will work. Knowing your soil pH is critical. Base your bryophyte choice first on mosses or liverworts that like the same soil balance as your tree. Consider the expected sun exposure and whether it will be placed in the shade or sun. Mosses vary in their growth habits... some spreading like a ground cover while others grow in mounds offering options for enchanting Bonsai landscapes with rolling hills, valleys, and "mini" mountains. When your mosses sport additional colors from male cups and sporophytes, you'll know that they are “happy campers.” Sporophytes offer a spectrum of colors as do male cups, particularly Atrichum and Polytrichum cups display intense oranges and bronzes. These colorful reproductive phases offer another whole dimension to the concept of Bonsai's impressive miniature landscapes.

The key is using the right moss for the soil pH and a maintenance regime appropriate for your Bonsai tree. Since trees don't require as much moisture, just any ol' moss may not thrive. Bryum argenteum and other Bryum species as well as Ceratodon purpureus have been used on alkaline soils and tolerate dry regime better. These types can be found in sidewalk cracks or edges of parking lots in urban areas. Atrichum and Polytrichum offer a totally different appearance and texture with taller upright growth habits. The Mnium family of bryophytes with translucent leaves provides an option for more moist condition spreading more horizontally. Other “carpet” mosses that may be used are Thuidium, Ctenidium and Hypnum.

Bryum and Ceratodon are slow growers since mosses they grow upright in tight colonies with little outward expansion. They are velvet to the touch. One Bryum type stays brilliant green even during droughts. "Sidewalk" mosses will work best on alkaline soil substrate. I've known several bonsai folks that like to use "blue" moss which is Bryum argenteum. It has a silvery, blue sheen. Its common name is silver-tip moss or sidewalk moss. Mosses which grow prostrate, or “carpet” mosses, tend to be among the fastest growers. These fern-type mosses may even start to creep up the Bonsai tree trunk.

Please note that if your mosses turn brown or dry out, they may be transitioning, and in time, with watering, they could rebound back. They may not really be dead. Given patience, you may be pleasantly surprised. If you keep your Bonsai inside, you'll definitely need to mist/spritz them every day. To thrive indoors, more frequent mists may be needed due to low humidity from heat or A/C.

In June 2009, I did a workshop in Charlotte with the Bonsai Society of the Carolinas. My own Bonsai log creation is still thriving in my moss garden. However, in my moss demonstration, I used a dwarf conifer, not a real Bonsai tree, with Dicranum scoparium, Thuidium delicatulum and Atrichum angustatum mosses along with supplemental Polystichum and Appalachian Polypody ferns. Another Bonsai creation looms like a mountain featuring Leucobryum glaucum and a lichen, Cladonia crystatella. Both of these Mountain Moss interpretations include dwarf conifers as the feature trees. I have not really explored the art of Bonsai by meticulously maintaining and manipulating the trees myself. I've only snipped here or there. I would say they are just “quasi-Bonsai” in that sense. In my own moss garden, I have been nurturing several “baby” hemlocks (Tsuga sp.) and monitoring them for the killer adelgids (thankfully, no fluffy white sitings at all in past 2 years). My favorite is as authentic as the original Chinese Bonsai collected in the wild. It was found in a nearby forest growing from a decaying stump and it's now a focal point set off by dramatic black pebbles surrounding the majestic centerpiece.

In my region of the country, I would recommend a visit to The North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville to explore their Bonsai collection and perhaps attend the annual Bonsai Expo. Bonsai beginners and experts can attend workshops and find an extensive selection of Bonsai trees at Randy Clark's place in Charlotte, The Bonsai Learning Center. Although not Bonsai trees, dwarf conifers and azaleas provide a pleasing alternative. Nestled in the mountains near the Forks of Ivy, Mountain Meadows Nursery, owned by Michael Balogh offers outstanding dwarf choices ranging from a minimum of 3 years to 15-year-old tiny trees.

Happy Holidays to Moss Lovers and Bonsai enthusiasts. Go Green With Moss... for Bonsai!

Photographs of Bonsai by Randy Clark,

Photographs of Bonsai interpretations featuring dwarf trees by Annie Martin,

Background references for this Mountain Moss Blog posting included the following Web sites:

Moss Diary #2 0

Dear Moss Diary, Today, May 20, 2010 was a FULL day of mossin' fun culminating in a major creative flow. First, I joined other Transylvania Master Gardeners for maintenance work on the rain gardens at the library. We dead-headed lots of Black-eyed Susans. However, the only bryophytes present in the garden are the ones that have migrated by themselves. For some reason, even rain garden designers have not yet considered the value of mosses with other moisture-loving plants. Off to a site consultation, I offered ideas on which mosses will work best in this formal garden. The addition of year-round green mosses will enhance this space and provide enjoyment throughout all seasons, especially when all the perennial flowers die back in the winter. The homeowner understands our spiritual connection to nature and her own delight was obvious as she proudly “showed off” her garden landscape. I left with a resurgence of creative energy as I began formulating my design plan in my head. Since this new project will require a variety of moss types, I went in search of appropriate ones. My first stop was the local recycling/trash center. I'd gotten permission earlier to retrieve mosses growing behind the dumpsters. The guys working there are supportive of my moss passion and gently tease me about my obsession. The various Bryums retrieved will work well in the long crack in front of the door frame and in cracks of the paved sidewalk areas. They were dry and dusty but a good soak at home perked them back up. Obviously, sitting behind a dumpster in the hot sun, is not very romantic compared to harvesting/rescuing in a lush forest location. But, I go where I need to find the right moss plants for landscaping applications. These direct sun mosses need to be cultivated because they have great potential. I'll include different Bryums and Ceratodon in my moss cultivation research project. My next location offered a more serene environment. The birds chirped and the soft breeze caressed me as I scaled a steep bank to retrieve Ceratodon, Bryum, Ditrichum, Atrichum, Polytrichum and a bit of Leucobryum. This area has trees scheduled to be cut with mosses growing nearby subject to destruction. Many were in sporophytic stages. I saw a number of male cups in adjacent colonies. In my solitude, Gucci, my dog, runs around in a frenzy, occasionally checking back in with me as I trudge along with my moss sled in tow. By the time I returned home, my creative juices compelled me to start transforming some ugly stumps and branches into my magical moss creations. They are magical for me, at least. I carefully choose the anchor flower or fern. Usually I use Downy Rattlesnake Plantain, Ebony Spleenwort ferns and Resurrection ferns. I made another magnificent piece to add to my Moss Pointelism series for an upcoming gallery exhibit at the Upstairs ArtSpace Gallery in Tryon, NC. Also, I made three moss fairy gifts for my friends who generously loaned me their EZ Up canopies for the Kenilworth Moss Garden Tour. I'll have fun tomorrow delivering these “moss thank-you's.” As it starting getting dark, I decided to weed my moss fairy garden. Sun mosses require more weeding than other areas. And, those cute little weed flowers I let grow earlier needed to come out to showcase mosses once again. I staged magenta Impatiens at moss vignettes to plant later as my color accents this year. My last communion with mosses was WATERING. Moss-as-art creations require frequent watering to maintain their beauty. In general, I advocate supplemental watering in moss landscapes and I have developed “an eye” for when mosses are thirsty. Also, it helps me wind down from an intense, yet invigorating, mossy day. Go Green With Moss!

Moss in the Media: Like a Rolling Stone 0

Moss in the Media... I'm always excited to share when an article appears about mosses. This time the story is about me in Carolina Home and Garden magazine. Thanks to Melanie Bianchi for her writing talents and Jeff Miller for his photography of Gucci and me. Unfortunately, the photos were shot while my moss garden was still under snow in March. No green just white to see. More photos in the print copy that didn't appear on their Web site. Here's the link: Carolina Home and Garden 2010 Spring issue. Written by Melanie Bianchi. Former media maven Annie Martin senses opportunity like a plant feels light — and she greets it face-to-face. While engineering an Atlanta appearance by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1992, she briefly delegated her duties to an assistant so she could hop out of the production truck and shake the hand of the General Secretary as he departed the stage. “What do you say to a world leader?” reflects Martin, a diminutive blonde who’s perpetually dressed in purple. “Well, I’m a Southern woman, so I said, ‘We’re just so glad you could be here.’” [caption id="attachment_415" align="aligncenter" width="199" caption="Gucci Girl Dog and Mossin' Annie"]Annie Martin, Mountain Moss Enterprises[/caption] Out comes a deep, smoky laugh. Still, one gets the sense that not much deters her. And Martin brings that same hybrid of ambition and twinkling humor to her current passion: rescuing indigenous mosses from development and replanting them in residential gardens. A native of Asheville reared in Kenilworth, Malvern Hills and Beaver Lake, Martin says she’s never taken her family’s deep Buncombe County roots for granted. “I’ve always felt blessed to be born in these mountains,” says Martin. “I’m one of the lucky ones. I didn’t have to move here.” As “Mossin’ Annie,” she’s dedicated herself to the preservation of the more than 450 species of bryophytes that grow naturally in Western North Carolina. Via extensive networking, she’s alerted whenever a construction project is slated that will disrupt a spread of moss, and works with the development party — “everyone from the land-use planners to the property owners to the guys driving the bulldozers” — to salvage what she calls one of botany’s “most overlooked” horticultural offerings. The fascinating facts on moss are legion. For starters, it is, like the Blue Ridge chain itself, one of the world’s oldest natural entities: moss goes back more than 400 million years. And because it survives without a root system, it’s more adaptable than any vascular plant, even similarly ancient ferns. It is comparatively easy to harvest, transplant, propagate, and resurrect after a long dormancy. “You could take a piece that had been dried in an herbarium for 40 years, rehydrate it with a squirt of water, and within five minutes the photosynthesis will start again, bringing it back to life,” says Martin. Plus, it’s pretty — picture tranquil Zen labyrinths or shady Arthurian glens. The word Martin uses most often is “magical,” although she’s quick to point out that some bryophyte types do have a degree of vertical reach, rather than the traditional spread that’s “flat and tight.” Certain types of moss even thrive best in sunny spots. And, if Martin has her way, all of them could contribute to something she envisions as nothing short of an ecological revolution. “No landscaping plant,” she asserts, “could be more truly sustainable.” Besides needing a quarterly weeding (yes, that’s just four times a year) and a reasonable amount of naturally occurring or harvested rainwater, moss spreads require none of the drastically polluting maintenance of traditional lawns and gardens. That means no mowing, no pesticides and no herbicides. So why not moss? Unfortunately, an attitude persists that moss is an invasive species, a nuisance rather than a godsend. Excluding the grand gardens of Kyoto, Japan, moss is woefully underappreciated as a viable alternative in residential and commercial landscaping, says Martin. “The information gap,” she declares, “is a chasm.” But it’s one she is filling in rapidly, thanks to her various pending and acquired grants, including one from WNC Agricultural Options that would help former tobacco farmers learn to commercially cultivate moss. From a niche artisanal landscaper, Martin seems poised to become a vocal champion of sustainability, a leader in her field whose aim is to convince folks here and beyond to sow significant expanses of acreage with moss. “And when that happens, there’s going to be an increasing demand for a more extensive variety of mosses available to consumers, provided by the emerging live-moss industry, she says. A moss emergency, if you will. Forays to Duke University and consultations with bryologists across the country and the world have helped augment Martin’s scientific knowledge, and an alliance with the Brevard chapter of SCORE— a consortium of retired executives who offer business tips to entrepreneurs — and the Senior Resource Network, have fortified her toehold in the burgeoning eco movement. “Replacing lawns with moss means green savings in the pocket and green advantages for the environment,” says Martin. Referring to the regional biodiversity that sustains her beloved bryophytes, she adds: “It’s the right place. And the right plant.” A micro-pause. “At the right time.” Written by Melanie Bianchi. Freelance writer in Asheville, NC. Contact Annie Martin at Mountain Moss Enterprises at 828-577-1321 or . Or, visit .

Dear Moss Diary 0

Dear Moss Diary, It seems like a good idea to record some of my moss experiences that lift my spirit each day. A written document might jog my mind to remember even some of the smaller moss moments that have delighted me. The catch – In the past, I have never been disciplined enough to keep a diary or journal beyond a few days. Even this week, when I purposefully wanted to write about some incredible moss days, I was just too tired to write my thoughts after working 12-hour days. So, I'll just try to jot down experiences without regard to actual day or proper sequential order. Most every day begins with computer activities that support my networking with other moss lovers from around the world. Sometimes we communicate via email or have a live chat with each other. This week, I exchanged emails with friends as far away as Washington state and Germany. We shared our thoughts in an effort to coordinate and replicate future research on moss cultivation. Also, I participate in several garden forums on the Internet and Facebook groups, like my own Go Green With Moss FB group. I was honored this week when I was contacted by David Beaulieu who writes landscaping articles at, an Internet biz of The New York Times company. We now have reciprocal links at each other's sites. Also, I linked my Web site to one of my favorite local nurseries, Fry Nursery in Pisgah Forest, NC. On to REAL moss fun... FIRST, I check out mosses in my own garden. Usually in the morning, mosses are happy campers because of cool evening temperatures and the accumulated moisture from the night's dew. Although it is unnecessary to water in the morning since moss plants have no roots that need to be soaked in anticipation of hot temps later in the day, I still water sometimes. Why? If I have just created moss-as-art in the past few days, I make sure that each piece is thoroughly soaked because they seem to dry out faster. Another reason that might prompt watering in the morning could be that it is going to be an exceptionally hot, dry day. Finally, if my schedule is so busy that I won't be back home until night, I water. At any rate, mosses like to have a “short drink” anytime. It doesn't take long to give these short drinks. I've developed an eye for exactly when they are wet enough. Beside, I truly enjoy the relaxing, mindless task of watering. Reality for expanding my moss cultivation at my moss nursery is that I'll need to set up a rainwater/spray/drip irrigation system with a timer and humidity sensors, thereby relinquishing this mindless pleasure of watering. Just a brief time spent in the morning in my moss garden provides a good start for the day. The gentle shafts of sunlight cast a glow on the mosses particularly highlighting sporophytes with backlight. I love to see these sporophyte surprises that add glimmers of reds, golds, and bronzes to the green moss expanses. Right now, these sporophytes are being challenged for first place beauty by my colorful azaleas which are in full bloom. It's my own special retreat where I seek my serenity. [caption id="attachment_407" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Serene, Moss Retreat"]Spring in My Moss RoomMossin' Annie's Moss Garden Benches[/caption] [caption id="attachment_409" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Moss-as-Art "]Moss-as-Art in the Spring[/caption] title="MossinAnnieMossGardenROOMSpring2010-1WEB" width="300" height="200" class="size-medium wp-image-407" />[/caption] I've created an outdoor moss room where I play musical chairs (or benches and stumps) to gain different perspectives from various angles. This additional 650 sq ft moss really helped create the ambiance I wanted to achieve. It is SO much better to look at green mosses instead of black asphalt. Just two years ago, this section was part of my driveway with mosses along the bank. The transformation is astounding and appreciated by me everyday. Someday, I'll blog about the making of that moss garden section which is thriving this Spring (originally installed Winter 2008). And, that's all I have time to write to my “Moss Diary” this morning. Time to head over to see local blacksmith to select a “snag” together for our team's landscape exhibit at the upcoming Handmade in America Expo at the NC Arboretum; plant a few new moss types at another moss retreat installed two summers ago (excited to report her moss garden is thriving!); check on recent moss patio installation; and... meet with my son's teachers. Hopefully, moss joys will keep my day bright! Mossin' Annie 04-20-10

Right Plant, Right Place 0

One of the guiding principles of horticulture is right place, right plant. It stands to reason that we should apply this guideline when moss gardening. Because mosses are generally piled into one big category called MOSS, it can be a challenge to figure out which moss (bryophyte) will be the right moss for your landscape needs. First, you need to know how to recognize the various types of bryophytes. Next, determine the bryophyte-specific considerations for preferred substrate, sun exposure, humidity requirements, appropriate pH, and other factors contributing to the overall microclimate of your intended moss location. So far, this seems pretty straightforward BUT... The first barrier to knowledgable moss gardening, beyond haphazard success, is identification of the appropriate mosses. Since there is a field guide for every other plant, rock, lichen, mushroom, etc., my first inclination was to get a moss ID book BUT... NO comprehensive bryophyte (moss) ID guide exists in print that features color photographs. However, I have found Internet resources and several regional guides prepared by bryologists to be excellent references for learning about mosses. I use Crum and Anderson's
    Mosses of Eastern North America
as my primary botanical reference bible. It is definitely comprehensive providing pen and ink illustrations of thousands of mosses (but no color photographs.) BUT... mosses can look drastically different in wet vs. dry states. In books, journals and Web image galleries, the available photographs rarely illustrate both extremes. To further complicate the challenge of identification, some mosses require an “up close and personal” look using a loupe (at least 10x). Some of the tiniest mosses require an even closer inspection by examining the cell arrangement of the leaf through a microscope. Some species can best be distinguished only during sporophytic stage. Resources to assist you in this identification process will be addressed in more detail in subsequent posts. Assuming you know which moss is appropriate, the next step is to determine under which conditions it will survive and thrive. Once again, my research instincts led me to print and Internet resources. There are limited references out there but I recommend reading all you can. Please note: Some of the “best” resources perpetuate moss myths and speak in generalizations. Networking with other moss gardeners and mutually sharing experiences has been most beneficial. It is good to have mossin' buddies with whom to discuss both successes and failures. Our body of knowledge continues to grow with new books, Web sites and image galleries providing valuable information as we all cooperate and collaborate on our moss journeys. If this quest for extensive bryophyte knowledge is beyond your desires and you'd like to just find out the right place, right plant answers, eventually this Blog will address a full range of specific topics valuable in starting and maintaining a successful moss landscape. Also, please check out bryophyte types in my image gallery at Today's blog provides food for thought. The main point is that moss is not just moss. There over 20,000 bryophytes worldwide, so, a right moss exists for the right place in your garden. Rather than generalizations about "MOSS", specific guidelines will be provided in future that will answer many of your questions. To other moss gardeners, what insights can you provide about the right places you've found for featuring specific mosses in your landscape design?