Atlas Moss Camp, 2016
September 3rd, 2016

Jerry Jenkins

The central goal of the Atlas Project is to make tools—guides, charts, atlases—for people to teach themselves natural history and ecology. As a way of testing them, and having a lot of fun in the process, we hold occasional classes and camps. We give out tools, pose problems, go to interesting places, and do field and lab work. Along the way we may coach a bit or give a few hints but we don’t teach much. If the tools work the way we should, we don’t have to. If they don’t, we have to make them better.

Sue's house, Rowe-61

In July, we held an Atlas moss camp in Rowe, MA. That’s Sue Williams’ house, and my camper and mobile lab. We invited some very good people, and ended up with a very hot group.

Here’s Aaron, Matt, Erik, Somebody’s hat, and Lisa.

Aaron, Matt, Erik, Brett, Lisa Moss Camp, 2016-601

Linda, Elizabeth, , and Aaron working the woodland mosses that live in the grass in a shaded lawn.

Linda, Elizabeth, Moss Camp, 2016-3 Aaron, Brett, Moss Camp 2016-5

Sue, Aaron, Linda Erik and, behind, Elizabeth, i the channel of Pelham Brook.

Sue, Aaron, Linda, Erik, Moss Camp, 2016-301

And Brett, Lisa, and Matt, also in the brook channel.

Brett, Lisa, Moss Camp, 2016-9 Matt Peters, Moss Camp, 2016-9284

We provided the students with, and asked them to test, a variety of graphic tools.  For preparation and as crib-sheets in the field, they used moss maps.

Moss map, dry boulder Moss map, wooded bank

And photomosaics showing common species and their habitats

Common Forest Mosses3

For lab work, they used two large charts of the Northern Forest moss genera. Here’s the first one:

Acrocarp chart

The advantage of a big chart is that anything you find is somewhere on it. They also used smaller charts for details:

Mniaceae, genera

Some of these charts are on the Graphics page. Others are still under development and will appear as we get them finished.

The course was structured around common habitats and common mosses. We started at Sue’s house, doing a shady lawn and second-growth woods, and then worked outward, doing older woods, a wooded swamp, a ledge and boulder-field, and a stream channel. In five days, without going more than two miles from the house, we were able to see over half the common mosses in the Northern Forest.

Here is the swamp:

Pelham Park Swamp, Rowe, MA-5-5 Pelham Park Swamp, Rowe, MA-31  Pelham Park Swamp, Rowe, MA-5-4

And some swamp mosses. Sphagnum squarrosum and girgensohnii:

Sphagnum squarrosum -56Sph gir-55

Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus and Aulacomnium palustre:

Rhy squ-22Aulacomnium palustre

And Polytrichum pallidisetum and Thuidium delicatulum:

Polytrichum pallidisetum


Here, for contrast, are two related species, Polytrichum commune and Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus from Sue’s lawn.

Mosscape- mowed lawn-14

Pelham Brook is the outlet stream from a dammed lake. It has a nice rocky channel but rarely floods or rolls rocks, and so even the small rocks have (small) mosses.

Pelham Park Brook, Rowe, MA-5-3 Pelham Park Brook, Rowe, MA-21

The brook mosses were interesting. The normal small-stream dominants were all there, and in quantity. Here’s Bryhnia novae-angliae:

Mosscape- rocks in brook-23Bryhnia novae angliae

The broad stem leaves, open branching, and twisted tips of the branch leaves are all good characters.

Here’s Hygrohypnum eugyrium, one of the commonest mosses in small streams. It is damnably hard to identify in the field. The concave leaves with curved tips are suggestive, but other things have them as well.

Pelham Park Brook, Rowe, MA-3-7Hyg eug-28-Edit

Mixed with the common things were some much less common ones. The light stuff on this rock is Hygrohypnum ochraceum.

Mosscape- rocks in brook-40

The dark stuff is a mixture of two small stringy species: the slender-leaved Blindia acuta, uncommmon with us:

Blindia acuta

And the concave-leaved (and bordered!) Platylomella lescurii. either rare or hard to recognize, or both.

Pla les-58

So much brightness and pleasure in tiny things. And puzzlement too. We wish we knew why they are in this stream and not in many others. But we don’t.

Or which ledges we were going to see the tiny Rhabdoweisia crispata on, and which not. Or for that matter, how to take a clearer photograph of it.

Rha cri-29

That, in brief was Moss Camp 016. It was wonderful and sunny and we miss it. We are planning another moss course next June at the Eagle Hill Institute, and perhaps either a sedge camp or a limy moss camp in Vermont. Watch for news.

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