View Full Version : Growing Bryophytes-An Introduction

02-10-2015, 03:53 AM
For an 8 year period from 2004 to 2012 I conducted a series of tests so as to discover how to grow a variety of mosses. While I had been growing one moss species in a bog type setting since 1967, I had not really attempted to use this species from Humboldt County in any type of cultural tests.
This effort to try and learn how to grow mosses here in the Santa Maria Valley was a challenge which I recognized as being difficult due to our inhospitable weather for a broad range of moss species that could be found more abundantly in northern California. The combination of warm summers and wind, especially the Santa Ana winds, as well as the general lack of information on their cultivation, made this effort one of continual monitoring of the test mosses.
Because I was feeling around in the dark about growing these non-vascular plants I had a number of dismal failures but over the course of time I have developed SOME understanding of what it takes to keep them alive in a relatively hostile alien environment (apart from the few that do occur in this area naturally).
I shall be adding comments with images explaining the tactics that I have found that work. But first here is an image that simply blew my mind whenever I was out spraying the plants.
This moss colony was received in March 2007 from the Piedmont of Georgia. It naturally occurs on a clayey type of soil.
This photo was takened 23 September 2010.

02-10-2015, 08:33 PM
Unlike angiosperms, for which there is a basic standardized treatment of a plastic pot and potting soil, there is no particular substrate that appears universal in its application for terrestrial and epiphytic moss species, though the recent experimentation using felt has promised some success towards this end.
Determining what kind of substrate to use for mosses was my earliest hurdle that I encountered.

This challenge was fueled by a belief that any pot bound substrate had to be as comparable as possible to the native substrate that that particular species had been growing upon. But it was impossible as I had no real information as to what that native substrate was! So I guessed! Unfortunately for my early attempts I guessed wrong!!

At that time I failed to realize that the challenge of a suitable substrate to grow bryophytes upon was entirely dependent upon both the amount of light and the amount of moisture that the subject would be exposed to during its cultivation in a plastic pot. What I later discovered was that the depth or even the presence of any substrate was not really an issue of import for bryophytes. The other issues of light and water were paramount, that of substrate was not.

This realization came about when a young man, Richard Smith, in Illinois, introduced his success with growing mosses on felt! To learn more about his work check out this link:
New Moss Gardening (http://www.newmossgardening.com/index.html)

The moss in the photo came from Utah in March 2007. The photo was made 7 February 2012.

02-12-2015, 12:29 AM
Water, that essence of life, that harbinger of hope, that perplexity of culture! You would think that you could just water the moss everyday or so and it would be easy as you sit back watching for the green to grow. But then that bundle of green starts to change into a bundle of brown! Ah what does this mean?

It must be that old adage about "water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink!" For mosses water quality is vital for their health and survival as they do not possess a true root system as with angiosperms but absorb water throughout the plant with their rhizoids serving more as a means of anchorage.
Waters high in salt content can desiccate moss plants.

Not only is water quality of importance in moss cultivation but the extent of flooding of moss plants could be problematic in successful growth. The amount of water that a moss plant can do well with is species dependent. Generally terrestrial species can handle prolonged period of flooding without drowning while epiphytes are so for the obvious reason! And then there are some fully aquatic and semi-aquatic species.

This is a species of Sphagnum which is semi-aquatic, occurring in bogs where there is ample movement of water and the species is not entirely inundated though may be so for brief periods of flooding.

02-12-2015, 11:25 PM
I first attempted growing several species of bryophytes in December, 2004. As winter had arrived the challenge of protecting the mosses from drying out was abated by the cooler weather and occasional rain. My primary means of providing moisture was using distilled water in a spray bottle. Soon this evolved into the use of a pressure sprayer spraying tap water ran through a reverse osmosis filtration system.

The spraying would be at least 3 to 4 times during the day. Weekly I would water overhead with a watering can and a rose (the can's spout) with a fine sprinkle mesh. This worked fine until summer came and Santa Ana winds began. The spraying and watering schedule was just insufficient, in my area, to counter the harsh effects of the drying winds. Compounding this problem was the fact that I could only do that watering and spraying before going to work, at lunchtime and after work.

A new system was needed to deal with the problem of wind while I was away at work. I tried a drip system of a distilled water jug hung up in an overhead shrub where I had punched with a straight pin several tiny holes in the hope that the water would drip down and help maintain some humidity in the area as well as providing some surface moisture. Well, not quite what I was hoping for occurred. Instead of a drip there was tiny narrow streams of water!! OK?
The water did last up to 90 minutes and I had to accept that for what it was at the time.

However, change was in the winds! The plants were faultering but not entirely because of the drying winds!

Part of the changes that I made in response to protecting the mosses was to enclose the mosses in a container.

Another tactic I found particularly interesting was to plant the moss DOWN inside the growing container so as to keep the surface of the moss out of the wind.

02-14-2015, 12:37 AM
I think that the most important consideration in the growing of bryophytes that I had mistakenly presumed was that mosses needed shade in which to grow properly! Hard to believe, yes?? But with the initial test plants of December, 2004, even with the spraying and watering and taking precautions against the effect of drying winds there appeared to be something else that was going on that I was not considering as the plants seemed to be unhappy as growth began to take a downhill turn!

There were two factors that helped me come to the realization of what that missing "something else" was. The first was the very first moss that I had collected at Big Lagoon in Humboldt County was growing about 4 feet off the ground in a plastic washtub on the roots of an Osmunda fern. It looked great but was exposed to more wind than those below it at ground level and it was exposed to more sun as well.

The other "something else" was, indeed, SOMETHING ELSE! Animals had discovered the nicely growing patch of moss and found it a great place to scratch on and use as their latrine!!


Well something needed to be done!!

02-14-2015, 11:27 PM
Though I was still of the mind that shade was important in the successful cultivation of bryophytes, the appearance of feral animals who found the mosses something to dump on or tear up as they searched for food became the over-riding burden that I needed to deal with promptly in order to prevent any further destruction of my potted moss colonies. For while my prized Humboldt County moss colony was being torn up by cats, some of the potted mosses sitting down below were being uprooted as well.

So then by December, 2007, I was able to gather the necessary materials to build a secure plant bench.


See attachment for early bench development. Photo taken 22 December 2007.

My main concern at the time was that the bench could only be placed in one spot in my yard that was fairly secure but was exposed to direct sun for around 4 hours daily. Because of my concern for the impact of that amount of light upon the mosses I eventually placed some Saran Cloth on the south wall of the bench to provide shade for the plants and placed the Selaginella species that I was learning how to grow on the north side of the bench. I made the bench with 2 levels and placed mostly mosses on the lower level and on the south half of the upper level.

With completion of the bench with a covering of chicken wire and/or hardware cloth around the sides and over the top of the bench I felt that the problem with critters tearing up the mosses was resolved! NOT QUITE!!
Though infrequent, birds seem to find their way in only to be terrified as I
open up the front doors and move about to chase them out to their freedom. Not too sure if they are looking for nesting material or food.

02-16-2015, 01:04 AM
After reading this reply you may very well agree, as do I, with Sir Paul McCartney that, indeed, the sun is KING!

But it is still hard to believe! Yet in March, 2007, I received from the coastal rainforest region of Washington state a box of a species of moss that was not only common in the area but was considered to be a nuisance, growing everywhere and upon every surface! (See attached image.)

Because there was a sufficient quantity of the moss species, that was more or less homogeneous, I decided to see if the moss would survive well on the sunlit upper level of the bench. I was blown away by the results which the following two journals have tabulated.



Apparently my early feelings about mosses needing a shady place was proven to be a mistaken notion. Not only did the moss grow better but was a much healthier looking plant than its shaded compatriot!

02-16-2015, 10:55 PM
Over the course of the next two years the moss that was in the shade continued its meager existence and in 2010 provided me with the opportunity to test out Rick Smith's felt growing system.



It would seem that the felt system has great potential in moss cultivation. My only difficulty with my experiments above is the choice of the container that I used. It was the only containers I had available at the time and they did serve their purpose initially. BUT over the long haul I was unable to maintain the critical humidity and I suspect that their need for increased light was curtailed by my placement of their chambers where they may have received only an hour or so of direct sunlight. (See attached photo)

All in all though, this particular approach to moss cultivation is something I shall be approaching again.

02-21-2015, 11:28 PM
Out of all the various moss species I have experimented with growing there is one colony of a moss and a leafy liverwort that I treated entirely different from the get go. I did not pot it up. I did not place it on felt (did not know about the felt system of growing when I got this colony back in 2008). I did not use any substrate at all in growing it.

Instead this native of Minnesota received a special treatment that involved using one of those store bought cake containers. I was lucky to have one and it looked perfectly sized in which to place this large lump of bryophytes. The dominant looking bryophyte appeared to be a leafy liverwort even though I was under the impression that it was supposed to be a Pincushion Moss, Leucobryum glauca. (see first attachment)

So I removed the top of the cake container and having placed the colony inside a plastic bowl that fit quite nicely inside the closed cake container, put the colony on the bottom of the cake container and covered it with the lid which made a nice tight seal with its base.

This sat on the lower shelf of the bench where it would get some sun around midday. I checked it later in 2009 and found that the Leucobryum had begun to grow. Resealed the colony and did not look at it until last week while I was
in the process of repotting all surviving plants. I was shocked at what I found.

02-21-2015, 11:40 PM
A terrarium of sorts? (see attachment 1)
The Leucobryum had grown and become quite conspicuous in the colony. (see attachment 2)
The third attachment shows a close up of the leafy liverwort while the fourth the Leucobryum glauca.

Inside the cake container the bryophyte colony had flourished, not being threatened by drying winds or excessive sun, though I wondered about the brown spot as representing a possible burn caused by too much light hitting the colony at that spot.

02-21-2015, 11:54 PM
In the latter half of January 2015 I began the process of cleaning up and repotting all surviving plants. I noticed that the cake container, though cloudy looking, still appeared to have live plants inside. Upon opening I was shocked to see that the colony had survived quite well with the Leucobryum glauca becoming preeminent over the formerly dominant leafy liverwort. (see attachment)

Despite the 6 year interval since I had looked inside, this colony of bryophytes had continued to grow and interact and the result of that was that the formerly dominant leafy liverwort species had become a component of the understory of the colony.

Of all the other moss colony experiments that I had undertaken only a few had survived to date. Drying winds, lack of humidity, and excessive shade had taken their tow. Nonetheless I, with the information that I have learned and which I have attempted to acquaint you with, have recovered what I could and have undertaken new experiments.

02-23-2015, 10:40 PM
Before attempting to grow bryophytes inside of enclosed spaces I discovered the Ferrero Rocher Chocolates 7 oz box, made of clear plastic, was a great container in which to grow the Stachygynandrous species of Selaginella, such as S. denticulata. Not only did these small rectangular boxes provide a place
shielded from the desiccating winds, the boxes allow for using a very thin layer of substrate on which to grow the plants.

With bryophytes substrate was not as important as is the need for adequate humidity besides sufficient light for adequate growth. This gives the opportunity to use the felt system or whatever type of substrate that seems of interest.

In my recent upgrading of my plant bench and repotting, I have made use of
three of these plastic boxes in bryophyte recovery experiments. The one shown in the attached images is on a fairly deep layer of moist river sand.
This container is being kept on the south side of the lower shelf of the bench where it receives some sunlight during midday.

The tiny mosses as seen in the image were just recently placed, as seen, inside the box. They will not be seen again for six months at which time I shall be doing a photographic examination of all my experiments, and will record its progress here, as well.

My hope is that the mosses will spread across the substrate.

06-28-2015, 09:18 PM
Alas! My visions of a tiny green carpet covering the sandy substrate of my little plastic box proved to be just that: a vision!!
In checking out my various experiments I discovered that the one that I had posted here had not done as expected. In fact, I was surprised to see that it had survived at all. Apparently the substrate had simply dried out over the three plus months interval.
In so doing whatever growth the moss had made was only in its height. Its spread across the substrate was curtailed by the loss of moisture which affected the clayey substrate the moss was growing on prior to its introduction into the testing box.
As a result I sprayed down the dried out soil and drained off the excess water.
I shall be attending to this test on a monthly or more frequent basis as is deemed necessary. Hopefully the hoped for carpet of green shall become a reality in due time.
Please check out the image below for a comparative portrait of the two samples.