A celebration of all things moss: a symposium

Photo by Gabriel Mantione-Holmes

The Natural History Club’s second annual symposium about moss biology fondly referred to as Moss Appreciation Week, kicked off on Feb. 9. This year, the symposium included workshops, a moss petting zoo, a keynote lecture and the opportunity for attendees to meet a tardigrade, a micro-animal found in moss known colloquially as the “water bear.” Alongside all of these events, a moss portrait contest encouraged interaction and participation between students and faculty. 

The week began with a moss identification workshop led by Portland State University’s Herbarium Manager John Christy. He delivered an hour long presentation, followed by a chance to look at micro-animals Christy had caught from his own moss samples. Chemistry major Ellie Draves ’20 attended the workshop.

 “I have gone to some of their workshops in the past that have been less moss related, however I love mycology (the study of mushrooms), and this seemed like a cool tangent off of that, so I decided to give this a try,” Draves said. “It is always fun to do something that’s sort of related to your major in STEM but also very different and something that I wouldn’t be able to study because I don’t have room in my schedule to take a bunch of classes about natural history.” 

Along with its workshops and keynote lecture, the Natural History Club held a pop-up moss petting zoo on the second floor of the Watzek. 19 different species of moss were present. Alongside note cards displaying their scientific names, there were magnifying glasses to better explore these furry non-vascular plants. In addition to petting, attendees were able to pick up a few moss week and Natural History Club stickers. 

Unlike last year, moss identification was not the only moss week workshop. On Feb. 11, a macro-photography workshop merged STEM fields with the arts. Educational Technology Specialist Justin Counts led this workshop. Alex Olson ’20 and Hannah Machiorlete ’20, both biology majors, were studying abroad for the first time the Natural History Club put on moss week. This did not stop them from becoming co-organizers this year. 

“This is one of the first natural history symposiums Lewis & Clark has ever had,” Machiorlete said. “The biology department doesn’t really put on symposia. They have a biology seminar, but that’s about the extent of the celebration.”

The Natural History Club has similar events like a plant pressing workshop but none that are as intensive and thorough as moss week. 

“There is more of an artistic extension in the program this year because last year only included the identification workshop and the keynote lecture,” Olson said. “We were able to make this happen through the connections we have made as curators of the natural history collection or as members of the natural history club.” 

Two days after the macro-photography workshop, Sophie Dimont ’20, a biology major hosted the tardigrade meet-and-greet. Attendees saw these extremophilic invertebrates through microscopes that were set up in the Watzek Library Classroom. Following the meeting, Professor of Biology  Bianca Breland delivered a keynote lecture focusing on moss’s proximity to the base of the phylogenetic tree. 

“It has been such a treat to connect with the community in so many different ways like the moss petting zoo,” Olson said. “I think we reached a lot of people with moss that wouldn’t normally have been exposed to this kind of information. I would love to see moss week continue after I leave.” 

Since both Olson and Machiolete are seniors, moss week requires new leadership if it is to continue next year.

 “I would love to see some event looking at the ethnobotanical uses of moss,” Machiolete said. “I think there is a deficit in (the) cultural knowledge of plants. At Lewis & Clark, I think there would be a lot of people who would be interested in that.”

The Natural History Club will be putting on a weekend-long scientific illustration workshop led by a scientific illustrator this March. Along with a plant pressing workshop, the club will also soon start to host regular meetings that community members are welcome to attend. Those interested in joining or learning more can email the Natural History Club at naturalhistoryclub@lclark.edu.

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