For all of the years I have been doing “Stewardship Adventures”, I had never made any of my “adventures” as much about “stewardship” as I really wanted, but now with my “Learn the Mosses our Wildflowers Thrive in as We Help Them Both Re-cover the Earth” program I think I have a program that will incorporate stewardship like no program I have offered before.
Twenty years ago, when I put my life’s focus back on nature, as it had been for my first 17 years, I started looking for our butterflies, as had been my focus in my elementary school years. A shortage of butterflies in the Seattle area led me to look at what it was the populations of any of their habitat plants, that had disappeared or become rare here, needed to recover.
At one point, I found that the mosses were a critical habitat element to the Evergreen Violets one of the host plants used by the caterpillars of a couple of the lost, local Fritillary butterflies. As I expanded my focus from butterfly population recovery to the recovery of all populations of all local species that had disappeared or become rare here, I noticed that our unique, local Long-tailed Wild Ginger – Asarum caudatum, that had apparently disappeared from Seattle, was growing in the thickest bed of Badge Moss – Plagiomnium insigne I had ever seen, just beyond the city limits. The message was coming to me that a key element of the preferred habitat of many of our rarer local species was a good bed of moss to grow in.
I was then thinking about the fact that the mycorrhizal fungi are delivering water and nutrients to the plants, and are essential to them, so that too much disturbance of the soil would mean a disturbance of the fungus layer, but that a solid moss carpet would be an indicator that the soil had not been disturbed for a good while, and as mosses are sponges that hold water, that they may help keep the fungi under them moist. Here, in another way, a healthy moss carpet was both an indicator, and a key part, of a healthy community of plants and fungi above and below them.
I then looked into how I could get mosses to grow more where I wanted them to, but found it wasn’t easy. I came to the conclusion that mosses, more than most other plants, are best planted by mother nature, and that a moss covered surface is usually a natural surface, that is one that humans didn’t plant or make, but one that nature made. That said, I saw that weeds could smother mosses, block their sun and kill them. So just by taking the weeds out of the moss beds, with a minimum of disturbance of the mosses and soil below, we could protect them, helping them to grow and spread, and in the process protect the wildflowers that grow best in them, and help them spread too.
And while weeds do grow in mosses, I have found that the fewer weeds of fewer species are establishing themselves in moss beds, (the worst offender being the imported Wall Lettuce – Myeclis / Lactuca muralis). I figured that most of our worst weeds had become adapted to agriculture, where soil was torn up and made bare, the opposite of a mossy surface. So I came to the conclusion that by protecting the moss beds and thus helping them spread, we would also be slowing the growth of our worst imported weeds.
I also saw that many of us advocates of native plants were clearing surfaces covered with imported weeds, then working to get native plants to grow on the bare soil, but that if we prioritized the careful removal of weeds out of a moss covered surface (other than relatively rare, exceptional, exotic moss surfaces) the surface cleared of weeds was already completely covered with native plants, and covered with plants that were critical to the success of other native plants and to the success of fungi that are so critically important to our flowering plants.
Then for me a big part of the reason to work so hard for the protection and
recovery of our the ancient natural communities as they might have been before agriculture and world trade, is an aesthetic one. I see the most beauty in them,
and I believe all people have an instinctive appreciation for natural beauty. So a major reason to work for the protection and recovery of our rich, green mossy surfaces is for the exceptional natural beauty they have! Unlike so much of the artificial wealth that our global human community has been tricked into pursuing, this is true wealth! I argue that a green mossy surface is more beautiful and more valuable than green money!