“Learn the Mosses our Wildflowers Thrive in” Program Adds New Stewardship Element to “Stewardship Adventures”

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.

Boloria epithore | Art Shapiro's Butterfly SiteAt 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, I noticed that our unique, local Long-tailed Wild Ginger – Asarum caudatum, that had apparently disappeared from Seattle, was growing, where I had found the nearest remaining population, in an unusually thick bed of Badge Moss – Plagiomnium insigne.   The message was coming to me that a key element of the preferred habitat of many of our rarer local species was a good moss bed 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 Thelephora palmatadisturbance 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 most of 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!

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2 Responses to “Learn the Mosses our Wildflowers Thrive in” Program Adds New Stewardship Element to “Stewardship Adventures”

  1. Stewart says:

    Thank you Dan for your reply!

    No doubt many weeds grow well in moss, but when I compare a surface that has recently been churned up and made bare with the average bed of one of our mosses that grow on soil, and compare the two in a year, I will find a lot more weeds, usually of a diversity of species, growing in soil that had been churned up and made bare, than I will find in the moss bed. The weeds in the disturbed, bare soil will be dominated by annuals.

    And no doubt pulling up a well established weed in a moss bed can do significant damage to the moss bed, but especially if the wet season, and the soil is relatively moist, I can do a fair amount of replacing the clumps of soil with the moss on them, then tamping them down, and I will have enough recovery of the moss bed to make it worth the effort. That said, if we make an extra effort to pull out the weeds when they are relatively young we can get them out with less disturbance to the moss bed and the soil below.

    Depending on my estimate of the root system of the weed, I may pull out the weed with methods that take either a bit more effort, or a bit less. If the weed is a recently germinated seedling, I will usually just pull it up with 2 fingers. If it is a bit better established, I may use 3 fingers, pushing and holding the moss down with my middle finger, while I pull up with my thumb and index fingers. Then if the weed has a root system that is too tough for the 3 finger method, I may hold down the moss with one hand while I pull up with the other hand. I also often use a Hori Hori weeding knife, and have different methods using my Hori Hori to minimize the moss and soil disturbance for different weed root systems.

    I also have a rule that I always pull in the opposite direction the root goes into the soil, for both best success in getting the root out, and the least disturbance to the soil and mosses above the root. With some root systems, I will separately pull out separate roots that go in different directions.

  2. Dan Paquette says:

    Hi Stewart, A very fine article. I hope that your hypotheses are borne out. I’ve been weeding near Snoqualmie pass for a few years, and the situation there is a little different perhaps. The ground cover is Niphotricum elongated and N. Ericoides. The weeds (spotted knapweed , St John’s wort, oxeye daisy) love the substrate. It is difficult to pull these plants without disturbing the soil. Plantings of hard hack seem to be doing well. Dead heading these weeds seems to be reducing the weed population also. I hadn’t thought about the fungi. These areas are often quite out in the open, and these mosses are quite draught tolerant compared to badget moss and many of the woodland species. It would be interesting to know the status of microhyza in this type of environment. dp

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