Community gets mossy at terrarium workshop

Photo of a twomoss terrariums in a jars
Leo Bernstein Newman / The Mossy Log

MOSS Appreciation Week is a beloved part of the Spring semester for many Lewis & Clark students. Throughout the week, the Natural History Club (NHC) encourages students to learn about and enjoy the plethora of moss that calls our campus its home.

According to NHC, it is their “annual invitation to the LC Community to salute our bryophyte brethren and in doing so revel in our Pacific Northwest habitat.” 

Events often include keynote speakers, workshops and the iconic moss petting zoo, set up in the library atrium. This year, NHC hosted a moss terrarium building workshop as part of Moss Appreciation Week. On Feb. 14 and 15, alumnus Robin Fujita ’18 organized and ran the workshop. Groups gathered in the library entrance and the workshop leaders outlined the afternoon’s schedule. 

Each participant was given a brown paper bag and led toward Olin to begin collecting specimens. The leaders encouraged participants to harvest from places where the previous groups had not. Moss thrives in unexpected, tiny places: below benches, in between stones and in tufts decorating tree branches. 

Along with live moss, I chose to harvest a small fern, a lichen-covered stick and some small rocks to add texture to the landscape of my terrarium. Once we were satisfied with our pickings, they led the group to the library classroom where the workshop was set up. 

Each table was equipped with tweezers, forceps, spray bottles and other tools to organize and decorate the terrariums. After an in-depth tutorial on how to build the layers of our terrarium, we were each given small jam jars with lids and a free range of materials. The club provided bins full of pumice and soil substrate and extra mosses, as well as decorative plastic frogs. 

First, a layer of pumice stones lines the bottom of the jar, acting as a drainage layer and on top, a layer of soil. Fujita encouraged us to create variety in our landscapes, pushing the soil to build small mounds or divots for our moss to sit on. Then, before inserting the living elements, participants had to add our small rocks and stones so they would not smash the moss.

Finally, everyone could add plants. Moss is a delicate yet resilient plant that participants were able to harvest in sheets and break into small pieces without causing harm. 

I began to layer cushion moss, a bouncy and pillowy moss, along the bottom of my terrarium, nestling it into the soil with a pair of forceps. Next, to build dimension, I added curly thatch moss — a gorgeous Bryophyte decorated with tiny sprouts. 

Once I was satisfied with my base layer, I carefully placed my fern in between the two types of moss, making sure that the roots were set securely in the soil and added my lichened twig to support the fern from the side. Filling in the gaps with golden-short capsuled moss and the occasional pebble, I marveled at the small world growing beneath my fingertips. 

Moss thrives in wet conditions and the terrariums need to be watered regularly to thrive. Using a spray bottle, participants moistened the sides of the jars to ensure that the perimeters were well saturated and then gently misted the centers of the jars. In order to mimic the damp Portland weather, the moss must be watered every couple of days and the pumice layer kept constantly wet. 

The terrarium I made now lives on my desk and brings life into my dorm room. Moss is a fascinating plant and we are so lucky to have access to such variety and abundance right outside our doors. Next time you are walking to class, gallivanting through Tryon or even talking on the phone to your mom outside your dorm, take a moment to look down and appreciate the moss. 

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