Beautiful Bryophytes: A Q&A with Moss Queen Annie Martin

Annie Martin, or “Mossin’ Annie,” as she calls herself, has been a moss lover ever since she was a child. Growing up in western North Carolina, Martin witnessed constant development of natural landscapes for commercial properties. With this development came a devastation of one of the things she loved most: moss. While moss might not be the obvious first choice for a favorite plant, Martin loves it for a variety of reasons. She loves it so much, in fact, that she turned her passion for bryophytes into Mountain Moss Enterprises, a nursery—“mossery”— she has run since 2008. For Martin, her biggest goal is to spread her love of mosses everywhere so that as many people as possible can appreciate their natural beauty.

Modern Farmer: What motivated you to start Mountain Moss?

‘Every time I see the bulldozers, my heart aches for all of the plants that got destroyed.’

Annie Martin: I had a two-pronged stimulus. Number one, I wanted to create moss gardens for other people so that they could enjoy the aesthetic aspect, as well as some of the environmental advantages of using mosses in landscapes. My second motivation was that, having lived in western North Carolina, going back generations, these mountains are my home. I’ve watched development occur my entire life. Every time I see the bulldozers, my heart aches for all of the plants that got destroyed. My particular plant of concern is all the varieties of mosses. We have 450 species of bryophytes in western North Carolina. That’s what prompted me to start Mountain Moss as a business.

MF: You describe moss as a viable horticultural choice. If someone has a garden or farm, what are the benefits of introducing moss?

‘There’s no groundwater contamination from any aspect of landscaping with mosses.’

AM: The overall environmental benefit, if you want to generalize about all species, would be that they require no fertilizer, no pesticides and no herbicides, therefore, there’s no groundwater contamination from any aspect of landscaping with mosses.  They’re really off in a category by themselves. With that said, some grow sideways, and some grow upright. Both ways, there are species that are valuable in erosion control. For instance, Polytrichum is an upright species and it goes straight down into most nutrient-poor, atrocious soil you can imagine: red clay and gravel. It can end up holding the soil so that on very steep hillsides, you can address erosion issues without plants that require you to get up there with a weed-eater and maintain them. The other [benefit] is water filtration. We can utilize mosses, for instance, for storm water control, even in urban locations, or in settings where river rock continues to try to help mediate the flow of water. That’s kind of ugly, in my opinion. You can soften it by utilizing mosses that will grow on the rocks themselves.

MF: Can moss only complement what someone is already doing for erosion control and water filtration?

AM: In can actually be the total alternative, in my opinion. In my most recent installation in Georgia, they had a problem with mud and sediment coming from an upper terrace of what was an original cotton plantation, and then it terraced down to a new pond like three or four levels. They were having a big runoff issue at one spot, and, of course, they didn’t want mud in their newly-created trout pond. They were using hay bales and river rock to mediate the situation and get it under control. But, that’s pretty ugly. So, we changed it out with these huge mature colonies of Polytrichum that I’m confident will solve the problem.

MF: Do you have a favorite moss that you like to incorporate into your displays?

‘I will admit that sometimes my favorites change from day to day. I believe that most of the time, Climacium is my favorite.’

AM: I have to smile when you ask that question, because I will admit that sometimes my favorites change from day to day. I believe that most of the time, Climacium is my favorite. It just has this growth pattern. When it starts out, it looks like a little conifer tree with this intense, brilliant green. As it starts to grow up, it can reach heights of maybe an inch and a half, two inches. At its maturity, the top part of the “tree” is maybe as large as a silver dollar. Its color ranges from that initial bright, intense green to some medium green, to some olive green, then into kind of a pretty ugly brown. But, if it’s in the sun, it can be an intense yellow. I mean just a gorgeous yellow.

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MF: What’s one of the most important things you want people to know about moss?

AM: Mosses require moisture or humidity to thrive. There are many moss myths. Mosses do grow in the shade, but there are certain species that can tolerate sun — it can be more of a challenge to grow them. My moss mantra is “water and walk on your mosses.” If I gave any guideline at all, to me, that is the key.

All photos are courtesy of Annie Martin. More information on moss and it’s many uses can be found at here at Mountain Moss Enterprises.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Beautiful Bryophytes: A Q&A with Moss Queen Annie Martin