Annie Martin (aka Mossin’ Annie)

Annie Martin (aka Mossin’ Annie)

I am a mosser. Known to most folks as Mossin’ Annie, I have been fascinated with mosses since childhood. Today, my life’s passion is advocating and promoting bryophytes (mosses) as viable horticultural choices in today’s landscapes. I wear many hats — moss rescuer, small business owner of a Mossery (moss nursery) and online Moss Shop, licensed landscape contractor, site design consultant, public educator, social influencer, published author and quasi-bryologist. Most importantly, I have embraced my destiny as a moss artist creating enticing moss landscapes and features that resolve environmental challenges and provide year-round green appeal. My ultimate goal is design and install moss gardens myself and to facilitate the process for other DIY moss enthusiasts. While I teach that it is important to choose appropriate species for the target location and to follow best practices for planting and maintenance, I emphasize the significant component of infusing good spirit energy into the process and connecting with the natural environment. As part of my educational outreach, I have written a book to share my expertise in moss gardening, The Magical World of Moss Gardening (Timber Press, 2015 – translated into Japanese, 2017). Every single day, mosses consume my being. Life is good as a mosser.

Early Background and Education

Blessed to be born in the mountains of western North Carolina, US, I discovered mosses at an early age while hiking and camping with my family. The plant diversity in my region is outstanding and ranks among the best in the world. The Appalachian Mountain range (including the Blue Ridge Mountains and Great Smoky Mountains) are among the oldest. The French Broad River is an ancient river with the distinction that it runs North. The headwaters are near where I live now in Pisgah Forest, NC and the river traverses up to Asheville, NC (my hometown) through Tennessee until it reaches the mighty Mississippi River. I’ll add another impressive aspect to my locale, Transylvania County, NC (and adjacent Jackson County) has the highest annual rainfall east of the Rocky Mountains. I live in a temperate rain forest with all four seasons. In the winter, we can experience snowfall of 6” to 18” deep, but luckily, it always melts within a few days or a couple of weeks.

At age 10, during the 1960s terrarium craze, I created my first moss terrarium for my pet anole, Oscar. I continued to make and share my terrarium creations with family and friends. I frolicked in the Kenilworth neighborhood splash pool that was only a few sites away from one of the most impressive moss gardens in the US. It was intentionally planted with a variety of bryophytes in the 1960s by Doan Ogden, a landscape designer. Little did I realize that my moss destiny was just down the street. In my early 20s, I started to enhance “forest driftwood” with mosses. Like many people, I just knew that I liked “moss” and clumped all species into that vague general category.

I attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (B.A., 1976) as an undergraduate where my studies were focused on sociological research methodologies. I obtained my master’s degree in media production from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC (M.A., 1982). During this phase of my life, my interests were studying Appalachian culture and developing media skills.

IAB Thanks

Without a formal education in bryology, I am appreciative of the knowledge gained from IAB members, especially Dr. Janice Glime. Many of the photographs of moss gardens around the world featured in my book were generously shared with me by Bryonetters. Additionally, I am thankful for the friendship of  Dr. Joseph Rohrer, co-author of the Princeton Field Guide — Common Mosses of Northeast and Appalachians. Books authored by IAB professors are among the most-used references in my personal bryology library. When wearing my “bryology hat,” I discourage the use of common names referring to species using scientific nomenclature along with basic descriptive terminology in my efforts to bridge the knowledge gap between the general public and the scientific community. It’s a challenge to interpret terminology and research findings into verbiage that a typical gardener can understand.

Moss Rescues – Motivating Factor

Rescuing mosses is a primary focus of my time. These mountains are not only a popular tourist destination but a highly-desired retirement location. I have watched “economic development” occur my entire life. Huge swaths of forest lands have been converted into high-income resort communities. Landscapers try to kill mosses growing in grass lawns or cover them up with mulch and pine needle dressings. Roofers destroy mosses when replacing shingles. Maintenance crews are obsessed with pressure-washing mosses from parking lots and sidewalks. Department of Transportation (DOT) crews regularly mow roadsides eliminating mature, impressive colonies. So, I approach property owners with brazen requests to rescue mosses before the destruction happens. Most of the time, my target rescues are the result of my moss radar – I spy with my little moss eye! As the word of my effort spreads, homeowners now contact me with moss rescue opportunities, too. I carry a $1 million liability insurance policy as reassurance to property owners. Also, I practice Southern politeness by leaving the rescue site clean, properly thanking people and sometimes even baking “thank you” cookies.

As mentioned above, there are plenty of places where mosses are subject to destruction. In fact, I experience major angst when I miss out rescuing mosses due to a time-driven deadline. I want all mosses in danger to be relocated to a new home where they will be appreciated. Please know that in my lectures, I admonish any “stealing” or “poaching” from our national, state, and local forests and parks. Ethical principles and quality standards are maintained throughout all aspects of my business operations, services, and products. I adhere to all USDA and US Forest Service regulations regarding the acquisition and distribution of moss plants.

MY MOSS JOURNEY as a Professional Landscaper and Dedicated Advocate

Driven by the compulsion to rescue mosses, and the desire to create moss landscapes, my “official” moss journey began in 2008. I established Mountain Moss Enterprises offering a full range of professional services and quality moss products. I decided to quit my job and boldly follow my dream. Start-up was a slow process given the economic depression but I was determined not to give up. Over a decade later, I can report that my small business has survived, and I have attained recognition as a moss gardening expert.

My passion is to create magic with mosses in my innovative landscaping projects! I so enjoy using the intended planting space as my canvas and an array of moss trays and mats as my paint. The process of envisioning an enchanting design invigorates my spirit as I incorporate a variety of textures, shapes, and shades of green (with golden overtones) with consideration of anticipated colorful sporophytic displays. Immediate gratification is way better than waiting for mosses to grow in. One of my favorite projects was transforming my own asphalt driveway into a serene moss retreat in the dead of winter some twelve years ago. It is still magnificent.

Educational Outreach

My public educational outreach has included hundreds of in-person lectures and workshops reaching thousands of moss lovers. I have been privileged to present programs for botanical gardens (i.e., US Botanic Garden, Washington, DC and the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Atlanta, GA), native plant societies, numerous garden clubs, environmental organizations, and master gardener groups. Recently, I’ve added Zoom lectures to my offerings. To further promote mosses, I have a Facebook group, Go Green With Moss, with 6000 members in our world-wide moss village. Additionally, I have a YouTube channel with instructional videos. Other social media efforts include Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Linked-In.

Implications for Further Research

It is a definite disadvantage that I lack any scientific training or academic studies in bryology. There is an apparent void that exists between the academic study of bryology and horticulture. I have an extensive list of research topics that I wish would be addressed by bryological researchers in collaboration with horticultural colleagues. I receive multiple emails every week from aspiring moss gardeners; at this point, I can only provide common sense answers based upon years of experience not documented research with validated results. In the hope that one of the readers will want to pursue new avenues in bryological research, I’m taking this opportunity to mention this issue. Bryophyte specific practical cultivation methods would help build the body of knowledge desired by moss gardeners, (i.e., Beneficial nutrients for specific species and the identification of pathogens or diseases that can negatively impact positive growth). I am curious about other phenomena that I’ve encountered such as why Climacium americanum occasionally has intense orange leaf tips or what triggers Hedwigia ciliata to shift towards a cantaloupe color then back again to green. As a mosser, I’m more like a “fly on the wall” gleaning pertinent content from research discussions on Bryonet.

My experiential research has been based on direct observations of selected moss species exposed to a variety of environmental conditions and horticultural circumstances over a period of years not the rigorous standards and control of variables expected using scientific methodologies. Since I find written record-keeping to be tedious, in this aspect, I don’t even rate as a quasi-bryologist. For instance, while I’ve determined there are better ways to grow mosses than to waste your time with a “moss milkshake,”  I did make an effort to test the concept with certain variables in terms of species, substrate, and “glue” medium creating a system of notecards for documentation of results. On the first try, the mixture washed away in the rain. On the 2nd effort, I controlled the weather variable by placing the items under a carport. Unfortunately, my dog liked the taste of the milkshake. Amazingly, the manufactured stone yielded the best results with all species. In 2010, I was a recipient of a Western North Carolina Agricultural Options grant (NC Tobacco Trust Fund). My “quasi” conclusion was that Entodon seductrix exhibited the best growth and fastest attachment to all substrates. I had theorized that Thuidium delicatulum would rank as best.

Media Accomplishments, Publications and Professional Affiliations

I have authored numerous articles for magazines. However, the majority of my publications have been written by other writers who have interviewed me, and that I have contributed photographs to illustrate content. My publications and media accomplishments lists are too long to cite so I’ll mention only a few. I’m excited to share that the Mother Earth News magazine (Oct/Nov 2022 issue) has a wonderful story written by Atlanta freelance writer, Tom Oder. I’ve been featured in newspaper articles from The New York Times to the Asheville Citizen-Times (my hometown newspaper).In terms of other media, I’ve been interviewed for radio shows, podcasts, and webinars. Being on both The Native Plant Podcast and Growing a Greener World Podcast have been hallmark achievements of my mossin’ career.

My professional affiliations include these memberships: International Association of Bryologists, American Bryological and Lichenological Society, Garden Communicators organization and the NC Native Plant Society.

Final Thoughts

While most of my contemporaries are retired, as a mosser, I work long hours… and sometimes it’s really hard work. If I could change any aspect of my life, I would begin my serious moss journey much earlier. I still have so much to learn… to create… and to share. I will keep on mossin’… I hope you will, too.