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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gathering Moss by Dr Robin Wall Kimmerer

Gathering Moss - A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses
By Robin Wall Kimmerer

I've had this book for some time now and dipped into it numerous times.  It's a book I will never tire of and new bits of information stand out with each reading.  Robin Wall Kimmerer is  Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.  

This is not just a book on identifying mosses - it is much more than that.  Dr Kimmerer writes beautifully and passionately with a scientific mind and also a mind that has come to know the environment intimately through her native american heritage.  She tells the story of mosses in language that does not necessitate the need for being a botanist to understand - how these amazing plants "live and how their lives are intertwined with the lives of countless other beings."  (quote from the back cover) 

Robin Wall Kimmerer

"I think it is this that draws me to the pond on a night in April - tadpoles and spores, egg and sperm, mind and yours, mosses and peepers - we are all connected by our common understanding of the calls filling the night at the start of Spring.  It is the wordless voice of longing that resonates within us, the longing to continue, to participate in the sacred life of the world."  Robin Wall Kimmerer

An excerpt from the chapter, An Affinity for Water, pages 39 & 40:-

"Watch a drop of rainwater fall on a broad, flat oak leaf.  It beads up for a minute, reflecting the sky like a crystal ball, and then slides off to the ground.  Most tree leaves are designed to shed water, leaving the task of water absorption to the roots.  Tree leaves are covered with a thin layer of wax, a barrier to water entering by absorption or leaving via evaporation.  But moss leaves have no barrier at all, and are only one cell thick.  Every cell of every leaf is in intimate contact with the atmosphere, so that a raindrop soaks immediately into the cell.  

The leaves of trees are uniformly flat, to intercept as much light as possible, and spaced far from one another to prevent shading.  But light is of less concern to mosses than is water.  Therefore, the nature of moss leaves is entirely different from trees.  Each leaf is shaped to make a home for water.  Lacking roots or an internal transport system of any kind, mosses rely entirely on the shape of their outer surfaces to move water.  In some species, the flow of water is accelerated by the wicking action of minute threads, or paraphyllia, that densely cover the moss stem, like a blanket of coarse wool.  The shape and arrangement of some moss leaves collect and retain water, a concave leaf holding a single raindrop in its upside-down bowl.  Others have long leaf tips, rolled into tiny tubes that fill with water and channel the droplets to the leaf surface.  Leaf overlaps leaf, closely spaced, creating tiny concave pockets, a continuous conduit for water moving among them."

Dr Kimmerer's book is a joy to read and would make a wonderful gift, either to yourself, or to someone you know who is fascinated by these wonderful plants.
From the preface:- 
"In indigenous ways of knowing, we say that a thing cannot be understood until it is known by all four aspects of our being:  mind, body, emotion, and spirit.  The scientific way of knowing relies only on empirical information from the world, gathered by body and interpreted by mind.  In order to tell the mosses' story I need both approaches, objective and subjective.  These essays intentionally give voice to both ways of knowing, letting matter and spirit walk companionably side by side.  And sometimes even dance."

Go here to read more about Robin Wall Kimmerer

For anyone interested in studying mosses and even growing them, go here for a fantastic download.


  1. This seems like an interesting book to read, so much more to the moss world than I had ever imagined.
    I have quite a few growing in shady, damp parts of my garden on the sandstone which makes up a large part of my land, also lichens which are very pretty too.
    At night I have a lovely chorus of frog songs, especially after it has rained. :)

    xoxoxo ♡

  2. Hi Dianne. :) Once I started taking notice of mosses and lichens, etc., I was amazed at the number of different species there are. I think stones look pretty when they have moss on them. It's lovely to see the frogs..... I wonder if we'll have any in our new garden - I saw a field-mouse yesterday though. :D

  3. They are beautiful good for sitting on though. I suspect they are grateful for that. Is the book still in print do you know?

  4. Hi Adrian, yes it's still in print. Here's the web address for it on Amazon u.k.