With so much to take in visually at the Arboretum, the miniature plants right at our feet are often overlooked. One day, I ran into a couple with their grandchildren. They had magnifying glasses in their hands and they said they were on a “treasure hunt” to find moss. What a great idea!
At first glance, mosses and lichens look like just patches of gray or green that can be found on trees, rocks, or the ground. Upon closer inspection, however, you will discover these fascinating plants are Lilliputian, almost from alien-like worlds. Next time you visit the Arboretum, bring a magnifying glass, your macro camera lens or extension tubes, and hunker down to get a closer look.
Mosses, hornworts, and liverworts are bryophytes, which are non-vascular plants that produce spores, rather than flowers and seeds. They are often seen in damp, shady areas. Lichens are not related to mosses, although they are sometimes found together. Lichens are usually gray or green-gray, and have a drier look, whereas moist mosses are varying shades of green, gold, or reddish-brown and have a softer, appearance.
Here are some of areas of the Arboretum where you can find mosses and lichens:
- The Fernery is one of the best places to view mosses. Crouch down to get close and really appreciate these tiny plants.
- The Japanese Overlook Garden has mosses and lichens on several rocks, as well as on some trees, and the Japanese Hill Garden has a lovely moss carpet.
- Take a look up instead of down this time and you’ll find moss on the roof of the Log Cabin.
- If you have children with you, have them look for mosses and lichens at the Garden Railway. They may find lichens on some stones, or moss is used to look like grass in front of some of the little houses. Mosses are great for miniature displays like fairy gardens and railways.
For more information, look for books such as Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians and Common Lichens of Northeastern North America: A Field Guide, or websites such as Oregon State University’s web page on basic moss biology. The Arboretum sometimes has classes on moss. On October 16, a field trip, the Mosses of Fulshaw Craeg Preserve offers an excellent opportunity to identify and learn more about mosses and liverworts. Register today.
Article and photos contributed by Kristen Bower, Guest Garden Blogger for Morris Arboretum