A must for moss mavens
Field guides don’t get much more specific than the beautiful new Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians, the latest in the excellent series of field guides published by Princeton University Press. The identification of mosses, aside from distinguishing a few easily recognized common species, has long been the exclusive province of botanists specializing in mosses and of a few rabid amateurs. Collecting samples in the field and carting them back to a laboratory, where they are scrutinized under a microscope, has always been an inescapable part of the game. Even most botanists are unwilling to play it.
With this new field guide, it’s clear that times are changing. Authors Karl McKnight, Joseph Rohrer, Kirsten McKnight Ward, and Warren Perdrizet, who credit the distinguished Adirondack botanist Jerry Jenkins with inspiring them, propose that by noting the growth form of a moss, the shape of its leaves, and the form of the rib that runs down the middle of some but not all moss leaves, the avid naturalist can go to straightforward keys in the back of the book and identify the plant with confidence.
Why bother? The authors, who include a professor of biology at St. Lawrence University (McKnight), make a convincing case that mosses are vital and fascinating components of the landscapes in which they occur. Yet the book’s best PR job in getting us to love and learn about mosses is its inclusion of gorgeous photos.
As this book makes plain, when you’ve seen one moss, you haven’t seen them all. Thumb through this volume, an essential addition to every public library and naturalist’s working collection, and you may soon find yourself sprawling on your belly, hand lens pinched between thumb and forefinger, trying to name the lush carpet beneath you.
The only significant shortfall I note in Common Mosses is that it leaves out my favorite Adirondack moss, Schistostega pennata. Also known as luminescent moss or Goblin’s gold, it thrives in obscure places such as dim crevices along rocky lakeshores and in deep crannies in the root fans of overturned trees. Goblin’s gold is the most glamorous moss we have. In the interests of stirring interest in these humble but remarkable plants, its astonishing beauty cries out for inclusion.