Try listening to the story instead of reading it!

Photo by Joan Herrmann – Sphagnum Magellanicum

Story and Photograph Joan Herrmann

Whereiwander… I truly love living in the “North Country”, however, it takes a bit of patient this time of year, while wishing for calendar spring to become a reality. Yesterday early morning when I pulled up the shade I was greeted by the beauty of spring. The Downy Serviceberry tree near the window was adorned with buds that had finally burst free and tiny flowers were unfurling. The warmth of the previous day and night was ideal for a prolific nightly migration. Opening the window allowed me to hear many delightful bird sounds. The white-throated, chipping and song sparrows could be heard in the meadow; in addition to the melodic sound of a wood thrush, every, and rose-breasted grosbeak in the woods. If we are fortunate the Baltimore orioles, scarlet tanagers, and indigo buntings along with ruby-throated hummingbirds will soon be arriving too.

What always sustains me while waiting for returning birds and emerging wildflowers is the delightful green that can be found while hiking the roadsides or nearby trails of the multitude of mosses that can be seen everywhere. Mosses grow on trees, rocks, roofs, fences, and the ground. They have always fascinated me and with a magnifying lens or even better the macro features of my camera I can see the stunning beauty of these tiny treasures. Mosses can be observed in every season. My only dilemma for many years was my quest to learn more about them. I could find books in the library about Bryophytes (which include mosses, liverworts, and hornworts), but I wanted a field guide to be able to identify and learn more about each species. I wanted to learn through text and photographs. Twenty-five years ago we didn’t have the advantage of being able to go online and Google.

Photo by Joan Herrmann – Apple Moss (Bartramia pomiformis)

I had taken literally thousands of moss macros, and I didn’t know their name. I had purchased a book by Robin Wall Kimmerer called “Gathering Moss” and it was the impetus of wanting to know even more about mosses. Robin’s book also validated so many of my thoughts, particularity her account that “It is a sign of respect to call a being by its name, and a sign of disrespect to ignore it. Words and names are the ways humans build relationships, not only with each other but also with plants.” I have always felt that to be true and it is why I include botanical or scientific names when writing about specific plants and animals.

Among the many moss photographs that I had accumulated was one that really intrigued me. It was quite different than most that I had photographed and had round, light green spores or fruiting bodies. Then in mid-June of 2006, I was photographing orchids in a nearby bog, a car drove up, parked and several people emerged. It became a very serendipitous meeting as the woman driver of the car, a botanist from North Creek, New York, was able to answer my question and identify the mystery moss as Bartramia pomiformis and its common name Apple Moss. She requested a copy of my photo which I was pleased to give her and we exchanged phone numbers. Happily, she called me a few days later to tell me her friend Susan Munch had just published a field guide called “Outstanding MOSSES & LIVERWORTS of Pennsylvania & Nearby States”. Long story short, it became my first Bryophyte field guide. Over the past fourteen years, many excellent field guides have also been published and information is readily available online too.

When Susan Munch’s guide arrived I learned that the spores or fruiting bodies are called sporophytes and that the round sporophytes are uniquely different from the cylinder shapes of most mosses. The round sporophytes look like tiny Granny Smith apples. The leaves or gametophytes of this moss are wavy and the moss prefers damp shaded ravines or streams on a rock outcropping. I learned the genus Bartramia was named for Pennsylvania’s first botanist John Bartram and the species name pomiformis is Latin for apple-shaped.

Photo by Joan Herrmann – TreeMoss Climacium americanum

Another favorite is one of the larger mosses, Tree Moss (Climacium americanum) which does grow on trees, but can also be found on the forest floor, in shade or sun, and also in soggy or swampy woods. It can be found growing upright on the ground in a multitude of colors ranging from brilliant green to new growth, to olive green or brownish-green of older growth. In the fall the tips turn a vibrant orange and the yellowish hue replaces the green color.

Well known by many is Sphagnum Moss. Sphagnum species like their “feet wet” or moister growing conditions and will often dominate a wetland habitat. Its presence modifies the area so that only certain, other species can survive within it. Ferd’s Bog off Uncas Road in Eagle Bay, New York is a short downhill hike to a boardwalk where you may observe this beautiful moss. In addition to the stunning greens, Sphagnum magellanicum has hues ranging from magenta to burgundy. Sphagnum is like a giant sponge that can absorb about twenty-five times its own weight with water. You can actually walk, with care, onto a Sphagnum bog mat. Our Native Americans used it dried within a buckskin rectangle for baby diapers and women used it for menstrual hygiene purposes. Sphagnum is also known as Peat Moss and in Ireland has been dried and used as a fuel source. Gardeners have used peat moss when amending soil and for its ability to hold water.

While at Ferd’s Bog also look for some of the bog specific plants; such as Bog Rosemary, Labrador Tea, Sweet Gale, Sheep Laurel, and the carnivorous plants Pitcher Plant, Sundew and Bladderwort. Looking forward to seeing you on the trail…

As a Professional Nature Photographer, Naturalist, and Outdoor Educator, Joan Herrmann has been teaching and doing programs for Schools, Garden Clubs, Libraries, and Nature Centers, about 38 years. After moving from the Rochester area in 1995 she began her Photography business, Essence of Nature, and also became a co-owner of The Artworks in Old Forge, New York. As a docent at Munson, Williams, Proctor Arts Institute, in Utica, New York she has been educating children and adults, for nineteen years.

In 2007 she began working with the Black River Outdoor Educational Program (BROEP) and in 2013 and 2014 did a week-long summer program at BROEP in conjunction with Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC). Using her love of both nature and photography she created a Flora/Fauna outdoor educational program teaching students (ages 6 to 14) the joys of nature and creative photography skills.

Joan’s love of nature has been a lifelong study of Birds, Wildflowers, Mosses, Ferns, Trees, Amphibians, Reptiles, Grasses, Insects, Spiders, Tracks, Scat, and Galls. She has assisted in the cataloging of all trails used by the hiking Coaches and photographed and identified seasonal Flora.

Since October 2016 she has been writing a bimonthly nature column with Adirondack Express Newspaper. In October of 2019, she began a bi-monthly column with My Little Falls Newspaper. You may reach her at