Sphagnarium

I started a Sphagnarium. A living collection of Sphagnum mosses from several sites in the Netherlands with the aim to learn to take care. 
artistic research-in-progress, 2021 – ongoing.

Plant community, Sphagnum denticulatum (geoord veenmos, said to have been the most common species in The Netherlands during the Pleistocene) and Drosera rotundifolia (a carnivorous plant, Sundew, in Dutch called Zonnedauw), (Terschelling, 2017).
Community of plants, Sphagnum denticulatum (Geoord veenmos, said to have been the most common species in the Netherlands during the Pleistocene) and Drosera rotundifolia (a carnivorous plant, Sundew, in Dutch called Zonnedauw), Terschelling, 2017.

living Sphagnum, or bog, or peat?

Time, matter, landscapes and climate fascinate me, with a special focus on the construction of ‘time’ and changing perceptions of value systems, which we often take for granted. And the way in which we manipulate timely environmental narratives.
In addition to projects about the sea, coasts, rivers, polders, mudflats and dikes, I work since a few years on ‘The becoming, The being & The meanwhile’, an art project themed around a small man-made swamp called Land in Wording. At the intersection of art, paleontology, geology, archeology, ecology and climate, I uncovered together with climate scientists and – activists a subsurface living climate archive, in the context of peat, soil, water, climate and the interaction between natural processes and human interventions.

From these deep underground and subsurface encounters with peat, I became fascinated by living Sphagnum moss. What exactly is peat? And who is Sphagnum?
How can I learn to take care of living Sphagnum? Do they need sunlight or prefer shade? What kind of water do they prefer, salt, sweet, sour, bitter..? Do I need to add nutritients, or beter not? I discover I can order living Sphagnum online for a Terrarium. I only need to give them a little water daily… but what kind of water is not specified…Can they self-organize survival without further interventions? Sphagnum does not come with an instruction manual, but in time I may develop one?

I usually work experimentally outside in the field – as a so-called empirical artistic researcher seeking for versatile and reciprocal perspectives – and I am curious about changing living conditions, migration, colonization, adaptability, community building and landscape formation from the perspective of Sphagnum. How can I reveal the beauty, vulnerability, resilience and versatility of Sphagnum? Develop another kind of classification for Sphagnum that includes all? Or may the concept of this Sphagnarium in itself be another act of polluting the world with more anthropocentric destructive allusions of colonialism, as discussed in depth with Tanya Lippmann, climate scientist at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam?

But how it can it be, that in the Netherlands, I have a hard time finding transsectoral approaches that interconnect the arts with other – including sensorial approaches or sensoilations – fields of knowledge, beyond separate disciplines like biology or bryology, natural and/or cultural heritage, philosophy and more, combined with future scenarios? Though Sphagnum is of immense importance as a terraforming entity of the shaping and future of the Netherland, and the planet is changing, I notice that most cultural relationships with Sphagnum are still themed around human benefit of peat. Peat lands are considered mostly smart for agriculture, horticulture, paludiculture, etc.
But what is the benefit for Sphagnum itself?

Learning to care. Sphagnum samples in Sphagnarium start to sprout...(detail, 2021). Photo: Jacqueline Heerema.
Learning to care. Sphagnum samples in Sphagnarium start to sprout...(detail, 2021).

divine bog moss

The concept of a possible Sphagnum Nursery and Sensoilations started during the ongoing art-science dialogue with Tanya Lippmann, but the name Sphagnarium is coined by ecologist Piet Zumkehr while we explored a tiny field at Wadden Island Terschelling (NL, 2021).
According to the app Obsidentify one of the species we encountered is Sphagnum magellanicum (in Dutch hoogveenmos). Recently the new name Sphagnum divinum Hassel & Flatberg (Divine Bog Moss) is attributed to European and Dutch species; see https://www.researchgate.net/publication/348944696 (in Dutch).

How many species of Sphagnum, communities of plants and/with other entities make a living & thriving peatscape?

According to the  app Obsidentify: Sphagnum magellanicum, but recently renamed Sphagnum divinum (hoogveenmos, Terschelling, 2021). Photo: Jacqueline Heerema.
According to the app Obsidentify: Sphagnum magellanicum, but recently renamed Sphagnum divinum (hoogveenmos, Terschelling, 2021).

metamorphosis of Sphagnum

I wonder, if we look closely at ‘veen’ or peat, do we look for the living plant Sphagnum moss (the principal peat forming plant, botany, biology, bryology), or peatlands (also called bogs or mires, wetlands, topography, habitat, biotope, peat and climate), or peat soils (classified as histosols. These are soils high in organic, decomposed plant matter, pedology, paleobotany), or peat as economic resource material (potting soil or growing media, substrates, agriculture, horticulture, paludiculture, agronomy), or peat colonial landscapes (due to peat extractions, social, spatial and ecological colonization, economy, now considered natural and cultural heritage landscapes), or the geological metamorphosis of peat into coal (geomorphological, economic industrial purposes, mining)….?

Is it even possible to classify peat (veen)?

Is Sphagnum considered an indigenous specie in the Netherlands? What does ‘indigenous soil knowledge’ mean? Ben ik inheems Nederlands? Am I indigenous Dutch?


residual intimacy
community, sensoilations, interspecies relationships …


collecting Sphagnum, or validation in science, art, heritage?

dried garden, herbaria
The oldest herbarium, ‘Hortus Siccus or dried garden’ is said to origin in Italy in the 16th century by Luca Ghini, professor of medicine and botany. The specimens of plants are usually labelled with all essential data, such as date and place found, description of the plant, altitude, special habitat conditions, color (since it may fade over time), and the name of the collector. Funghi are preserved in a Fungarium; wood in Xylarium, a Hortorium is specialized in horticultural specimens.

Biologist, paleontologist Bram Langeveld focussed my attention to the collection of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam. I found online Sphagnum magellanicum (Bridel, 1798), found in the Netherland. The preserved specimen in collection is described as handpicked, pressed and dried.
The full classification is: Plantae (Kingdom) Bryophyta (Phylum) Sphagnopsida (Class) Sphagnales (Order) Sphagnaceae (Family) Sphagnum (Genus) magellanicum (Specific epithet) Hoogveenveenmos | Rød tørvemos (Vernacular name).
I need to visit to see the specimen myself…and ask if they need to rename this specimen, as according to recent insights it may be Sphagnum divinum Hassel & Flatberg (Divine Bog Moss)?

The oldest known preserved specimen of Sphagnum magellanicum was collected in 1767 in the Straits of Magellan in South America, now in the collection of Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh.

Commerson’s type specimen of Sphagnum magellanicum, collected in 1767 in the Straits of Magellan inn South America, now in the collection of Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh, see https://stories.rbge.org.uk/archives/32566)
Commerson’s type specimen of Sphagnum magellanicum, collected in 1767 in the Straits of Magellan in South America, now in the collection of Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh, see: https://stories.rbge.org.uk/archives/32566)

in vitro preservation, cryobank
Meanwhile, I found online an another ‘living’ collection of Sphagnum, species that are preserved in vitro cultivation for the purpose of scientific research. Apparently, the Moss Stock Center at Freiburg Germany stores scientific back-up moss samples (among them 26 Sphagnum species) in its cryobank, as mosses prove to be resilient to environmental changes over long periods of time. They can even survive being trapped in Antarctic ice for a millennium and a half. See https://www.moss-stock-center.org/en/

19 samples of Sphagnum in vitro cultivation in Germany, see: https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/nph.16922
19 samples of Sphagnum in vitro cultivation in Germany, see: https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/nph.16922

monoliths preservation, a reference collection of soils

At ISRIC, the World Soil Museum (Wageningen University & Research, NL) 1100 monoliths of over 90 countries are preserved, with 33 classifications (or soil reference groups), 47 Dutch soil monoliths, including 3 histosols, as I understand is the classification of peat. Director, soil scientist and agronomist Stephan Mantel collects, studies and educates ‘soils’. I am fascinated by the concept of soils that have not been touched by sunlight since millennia…
I like to learn more about Luminescence dating..

At the World Soil Museum, 2021. Photo: Jacqueline Heerema
At the World Soil Museum, summer 2021.

bog relics, in art?

The becoming, The being & The meanwhile
subsurface as living climate archive ‘Land in Wording’ (Amstelpark, Amsterdam)
#1 Genesis, #2 Onland, #3 Breath of Soils(s), #4 Soft Soils, #5 aardtijd (2019-ongoing).

Soft Soils, aardtijd, The becoming, The being & The meanwhile, Land in Wording  (2019-ongoing). A 17th century artifact I found on the surface; with samples of 10 meters depth and approx. 6.000 years of time-depth of subsurface living climate archive,Jacqueline Heerema, 2021.
Soft Soils, aardtijd, The becoming, The being & The meanwhile, Land in Wording (2019-ongoing). A 17th century artifact I had found on the surface. We drilled in the soil (Onland, 2019) and collected samples of 10 meters depth and approx. 6.000 years of time-depth of subsurface living climate archive; I made a mold of the artifact (@ ekwc, 2020) and used unfired subsurface samples. Jacqueline Heerema, 2021. Photo: Gerrit Schreurs.

veraarden, vervenen, verlanden…
I discover that ‘veen’ (peat) is a generic term and that the Dutch language is rich in ‘veen’ words, names, toponyms, etc.
The living moss Sphagnum as a landscaping entity. Mosses can colonize. Mosses can ‘veraarden’, transfer into humus. How do peat mosses survive in changing environmental and climate conditions? I read that peat mosses go into so-called hibernation when environmental conditions are unsuitable.
What does ‘vervenen’ mean? Peat extraction for salt and as peat (turf) for fossil fuel. The result is peat colonial landscapes with social, spatial and ecological colonization, which not only took place overseas, but also or especially in the Netherlands. Peat as coal, the mining industry and landscaping with so-called slag heaps or terrils. These damaged landscapes are nowadays valued as Dutch natural or cultural heritage landscapes… Peat restoration or re-wetting projects as a form of climate adaptation, due to its spongelike ability to retain water, to store greenhouse gasses – or worst case scenario: release greenhouse gasses with the subsequent subsidence of soils. In the Netherlands we encounter ‘relative sea level rise’, as in addition to sea level rise, the land declines…


time

If we look into the deep history, we can value Sphagnum as a terraforming, a landscaping entity in the Netherlands. In an insightful range of palaeogeographic maps, Peter Vos reconstructs ‘The Origin of the Dutch Coastal Landscape’, the transition of the Pleistocene to the Holocene, approx. 12.000 YBP to current time. Twelve maps, with the fluxes of the North Sea and the genesis of the Dutch coastal landscape due to climate changes, including the interactions between natural and anthropogenic – or so-called human-induced – processes (Vos, 2015).

The dark brown colour in these maps represents peat. It waxes and wanes over time. What happened? Who happened?

Peter Vos, The Origin of the Dutch Coastal Landscape, 2015.
Peter Vos, The Origin of the Dutch Coastal Landscape (2015).

& the role of water?
A sponge? Fluxes of sea level, rain, groundwater, streams draining peat covered areas…


submerged peat, underneath the North Sea
VC-17, soil drilling Onland, family of peat? Research by Tanya Lippmann (VU)…
Fossils and artifacts as indicators of time, TNO visit 2018, VC-17 on loan during ‘Climate as Artifact’ (2018)….samples Tanya...Is Sphagnum (or peat) a proxy for climate change?


peatscapes
wetlands, habitat, biotope..
Pleistocene, Holocene, Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene… or Peat-o-cene?
Re-Peat Collective…


peat colonial landscapes or staged authenticity?

worldmaking as timescaping, matterscaping, landscaping, climatescaping..
social, spatial, ecological worldmaking..


iron or bog ore
Limonite, iron ore or bog ore (ijzeroer of moerasijzererts) with a hole made by a stem of reed. An index or trace fossil and indicator of a fresh water environment of approx. 8000 YBP with fluxes of the North Sea, a proxy of climate change.

Limonite or bog ore, Zandmotor (Bert van der Valk, 2019). Photo Theo Mahieu.
Limonite or bog ore, Zandmotor (Bert van der Valk, geologist, 2019).

bog salt
Plinius, Romans start digging ditches…


bog pigment
The grayish blue earth pigment Vivianite – or ‘blue ochre/earth, blue ashes, blue clay earth, terra de Harlem, Harlems Ultramarin’ – can be found in peat bog iron ores. Colourless when freshly exposed. After exposure to air, the mineral’s colour becomes light green, light blue, blue-green, dark green, dark blue, or black, depending on the length of exposure. Identified in medieval wall paintings and polychromy (since 1065) and recently in Dutch 17th century landscape paintings by Albert Cuyp and easel paintings by Rembrandt, like Susanna (1636); see ‘New insights into Rembrandt’s Susanna, changes of format, smalt discolouration, identification of vivianite, fading of yellow and red lakes, lead white paint (Petria Noble & Annelies van Loon, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, 2005, page 86).

Vivianite, Zandmotor (Bert van der Valk, 2019).Photo: Jacqueline Heerema
Vivianite, Zandmotor (Bert van der Valk, geologist, 2019).

as if it is
I question my own assumptions and notions of living, once-living or non-living matter. In 2020 I started photographing and documenting – with special thanks to artist Anne Geene for allowing me to use her photo studio – my personal collection of shells. I discovered that my own representation of ‘nature’ is based on traditional imagery and classifications. In the intersection of art and other domains, in this case biology, a shell is classified as Biota Animalia, an animal. I realized that my shell cabinet is essentially a zoo.

Intervention: Rotating the classic representation of shells… in viva, in living position. Photo Jacqueline Heerema (2020).
Intervention: rotating the classic representation of shells… in viva, in living position (collected at Ile de Noirmoutier in 2009, documented in 2020)

The same confusion applies for the common use of the name ‘moss’. Washed ashore this looks like a plant but is classified as Biota Animalia, an animal. Identified by the app Obsidentify as Sertularia cupressina (Linnaeus, 1758), in Dutch called zeecypres of zeemos. But it can also be Electra pilosa (Linnaeus, 1767), in Dutch harig mosdiertje..

Washed ashore, it looks like a plant but is classified as Animalia, an animal (Meijendel, 2021). Photo: Jacqueline Heerema.
Washed ashore, this looks like a plant but is classified as Biota Animalia, an animal (Meijendel, 2021).

Special thanks to Tanya Lippmann (climate scientist, VU), Re-Peat Collective, Piet Zumkehr (ecologist, Terschelling), Bram Langeveld (biologist, paleontologist, curator Natural History Museum Rotterdam), Stephan Mantel (soil scientist, agronomist, director of the World Soil Museum), Bert van der Valk (geologist, Deltares)…..