Monday, March 8, 2010


This past Saturday I attended a lecture at the USBG Conservatory in DC given by the Potomac Valley Rock Garden Society. The topic was "Designing with Native Mosses" given by Dr. Alice Waegel. I was especially excited to attend this talk not just because of the topic, but because of the speaker.

Moss Bank at Mt. Cuba Center in the spring. The ground cover below the dogwoods (Cornus florida) and tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) is entirely moss with a cloud of bluets (Houstonia caerulea) a few Trillium species and bloodroots (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Last year I was the curatorial intern at Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware. During my 6 month stay there I had the opportunity to work with the mosses on their property. I had learned that a few year prior Dr. Alice Waegel, while on her sabbatical, came to Mt. Cuba and conducted a survey of the mosses on the property and wrote a document detailing where these mosses can be found. So I used this paper as a jumping off point for a survey of my own. I found 17 more mosses to add to the 15 she originally found. Although, for the sake of collection accuracy, I had to re-identify a couple of her findings. Ultimately I collected 32 total species, dried them and placed them in an archival quality compartmentalized box that now rests in the plant records office. Mt. Cuba hopes to add the mosses into their collection in the near future, I am satisfied in knowing that I had a significant part in their progress.

Mosses are incredibly hard to identify. Often you need a compound microscope to view the defining characteristics that are only visible under 400x - 1000x. Anyone who can give you more than the genus of a moss just by looking at it in the field is probably either 1. lying to you, or 2. already keyed it out with a microscope. I had to rely upon the kindness of the staff at Mt. Cuba to lend me some of their personal microscopes to key out these species. I spent many many many hours staring into the eye pieces - as is the life of any bryologist. It is not uncommon to literally spend days determining the name of just one moss...but it's totally worth it! I wrote up an accompanying document of these additional mosses explaining how they were identified and where they were found in the garden.

It was such a pleasure to get to talk to Dr. Waegel on Saturday. She was especially interested to hear about my stay at Mt. Cuba and my mossy project there, and that I was an advisee of Dr. Kimmerer (whose book she referenced often). I think she was able to convince the members of the Rock Garden Society to take a trip up to Mt. Cuba with all the amazing pictures she had of the property in her presentation. I may be slightly biased, but it is the most beautiful naturalistic garden you'll ever visit - call ahead for a tour!