Thursday, August 25, 2011


It has been a while since my last post, but my summer was definitely filled with a lot of bryophyte-related activities. So hopefully this post is worth your wait!

Ponds of the Children's Garden with the brand new education center in the background.

Eleven weeks of my summer were spent at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden (CMBG) in Boothbay, Maine. I want to thank the Garden Club of America for sponsoring this internship! This was my first time to Maine (the final state on the east coast that I have visited!) and it did not disappoint.

A little population of pink lady slipper (Cypripedium acaule) in a sea of lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) - you would see me frequent these short shrubs in Late July when their berries ripened!

I have to say it was refreshing to return to the northeastern forests where I initially became enamored with plant life. Walking through the woods I was greeted by my old friends, Picea rubens, Abies balsamea... nostalgia rushed over me. Bunchberry, starflower, wild sarsaparilla, goldthread; I had not seen these guys in nearly a decade! They are not particularly impressive species, but I was excited enough to be reacquainted. And of course I would be remiss to not mention the pink lady slipper orchids...they are so abundant here you might mistake them for weeds!

A secluded area of the gardens appropriately named Lichen Mountain

These gardens are relatively new, officially opening in 2007. The Maine coast is an ideal spot for moss to thrive; there is magnificent species abundance. Clouds of lichens also share the terrain.

On a expedition to collect vouchers of the bryophytes of CMBG

To prevent this post from running too long I will skip ahead to the beginning of August when I got to hone in on the mosses (I was a horticulturalist for the first half of my stay). I was given a neglected parcel of garden space to transform into a spectacular moss haven. I knew it wouldn't happen in the time I was there, but I knew where to begin: weeding! This space was surrounded by a path and was mostly original native plants to the site: one red spruces and lots of numchberry. There were occasional random plantings of Asian species like bamboo, Chinese witchhazel, Japanese painted fern, brunnera and hosta... These species were immediately put on my "remove" list. Though they were accessioned already, they'll probably just be transplanted elsewhere. So I spent a few weeks tediously plucking out grasses and clover from beds of Polytrichum and Pleurozium. A good amount of moss was actually revealed after all this editing. A misting irrigation system was later installed, to encourage speedy growth!

What just a little bit of weeding can do. The ground cover consists of Pleurozium schreberi, Vaccinium angustifolium, Polytrichum commune and various lichens.

In an effort to determine which bryophyte species were living on the property I went collecting. I traversed the shorelands, uplands, wetlands, rock outcroppings and cultivated areas. I collected 50 specimens total. I should mention that I only sampled a small percentage of the total property, though I made a real effort to at least sample areas representative of all the different ecotypes there. Still I'm sure there are many more species yet to be documented.

An expert-in-residence keying out mosses.

I spent a week as the "expert-in-residence" in their education building. There I sat staring down microscopes and thumbing through numerous keys trying to identify some of these plants. Occasionally a visitor would stop and watch me through glass wall that divided us.

The bryophile bunch!

Joanne Sharpe, a known fern fanatic and docent at the gardens, told her local moss group about my arrival. So during my residency the fellow enthusiasts stopped by for a little tour of the species I was finding. I was skeptical I could impress them with the species I found, assuming they were old news to them, but to my relief they all seemed excited to see them all. Ralph Pope was one member of this group. He brought with him his soon-to-be-published moss field guide, He generously offered to send me a copy of a final draft when he gets to that stage, I look forward to that!

Demonstrating the moss lifecycle with a female Polytrichum commune gametophyte

At the end of that week I conducted a moss walk for interested visitors and I was happy to see a nice group show up. After a brief explanation of moss biology with a volunteer Polytrichum commune female and a tutorial on hand lens operation, we headed out. We stopped at various spots in the gardens where I identified diagnostic field characteristics for common species and explained their ecology; how they affect and respond to their environment. Everyone seemed very interested and asked tons of questions, which I love! One woman even returned to my office with her friend and explained how I had completely changed her perspective on plant life! That was so wonderful to hear.

My antique microscope got a lot of use that week!

I determined I had collected 35 species of mosses and 4 species of liverworts. I divided each voucher in the collection into thirds; one third will stay in the soon-to-exist herbarium at the gardens, one third will go to the Farlow Herbarium at Harvard University, and the last third will stay with me in perpetuity. In corresponding with a woman at the Farlow, I may soon be able to annotate some 19th century bryophyte specimens!

Intermittently during the rest of my time in Maine I was working on a visitors guide to the mosses of CMBG. This brochure covered the natural history, biology, ecology and identification of bryophytes. I really went to town on the text, I'm sure it will be whacked back a bit in editing. It should probably get published someone next year, so look for a PDF on their website. It will also include a self guided tour of several common species on the property.

Bill Cullina was nice enough to give me a tutorial on how to actually operate my DSLR camera. I've had it for several months now, but never had the time, or anyone willing to help me learn how to use it! Enjoy!

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