( PHOTOS (PREVIOUS SPREAD) LARAH MCELROY CC BY-NC 2.0; (RIGHT) NOAH COLE

Reasons to plant a moss garden this spring

The proverb ?a rolling stone gathers no moss? applies to people who are rootless and so can avoid some of the responsibilities of the world around them. But what about people who are actively seeking to plant roots by creating gardens? Can ?gathering moss? help build interesting and resilient landscapes? Bryophytes, a category that includes mosses, liverworts and other non-vascular plants, are an ideal choice for Ontario gardens. Such plants are extraordinarily resilient and can survive in both extreme cold and extreme hot, dry weather, such as that which occurred in Ontario last summer. Bryophytes were the first land plants on the planet and have been growing in various environments for 450 million years. Naturalist Bob Bowles argues that moss gardens can be environmentally-friendly, lowmaintenance alternatives to grass lawns. ?They don?t require mowing or weed-whacking,? he says, ?and because mosses absorb nutrients from the air rather than the soil like most grasses and other vascular plants, they don?t need fertilizers.? Additionally, their slow rate of growth means moss gardens largely take care of themselves. While insects, salamanders and frogs can live in moss colonies, these creatures do not eat the moss ground cover and so do not deplete it. In a garden that includes steep slopes or unstable ditches, mosses can slow water flow, stabilizing ground surfaces and preventing erosion over time. Through the Ontario Master Naturalists Program, offered by Lakehead University in partnership with Ontario Nature, Bowles is working with David Bradley, from the Natural Heritage Information Centre, and Chris Lewis, from Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, to teach participants the ecological value of mosses and ways to effectively incorporate these plants into landscaping. With 548 species of mosses, 172 species of liverworts and four species of hornworts recorded in Ontario, there is no lack of variety. Bowles hopes that, with increased interest in the study and use of bryophytes, naturalists will be able to not only identify the mosses occurring naturally in their gardens but also increase the number of these important native plants within their garden landscapes. More information on the Ontario Master Naturalists Program is available on its website, lakeheadu.ca/about/orillia-campus/community-programs/omnp or by emailing masternaturalist@lakeheadu.ca. ?Linda Rodenburg ,Lawn alternative: Moss gardens are environmentally-friendly and low-maintenance.

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