News of Field Botanists
Robert Muma: The Moss Man of Toronto
A biography by Judy Hernandez
(Published in Plant Press, Vol. 4,
Issue 1, March 1986)
Bob Muma has been an active naturalist since childhood, when he was tutored
in plant identification by a naturalist neighbour, Al Wood.
This is the same Al Wood who sent moss specimens to the National Herbarium in
Ottawa and whose moss records are acknowledged in Ireland & Cain's (1975)
Checklist of the Mosses of Ontario. However, it was not until the Federation of
Ontario Naturalists' meeting at Red Bay (Bruce Peninsula) about 10 years ago,
that Bob Muma began serious study of mosses while photographing plants. After
retiring from 25 years of custom bookbinding in Toronto in 1975, Bob Muma has
spent much of his time studying, illustrating and collecting mosses.
At present Bob Muma's collection includes mosses from around the world - more
than 2,000 specimens, including 350-400 species. He has mosses from Peru, New
Zealand, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Africa, India and from all over Canada
and the United States. Many of these specimens were collected for him by
vacationing friends. The collection has also been enriched by his participation
in the members' moss exchange of the American Bryological & Lichenological
Society. His bryological resources also include a well-stocked library and many
slides which he takes himself.
In his workroom, mosses are identified with a dissecting microscope after
being moistened to regain their natural form. After identification, the best
specimen is chosen, washed, then pressed for posterity in folders the size of a
post card. These folders enclose the delicate specimens which are affixed inside
on the right, with full documentation written on the left.
The specimens are glued to the folders with methylcellulose which is
colourless, flexible, and can be removed with water. Bob finds this method
decorative, as well as functional. As the specimens are not stored under light,
they retain their colour. By dipping the specimens in a solution of 50%
glycerin and 50%, water, each expands to its natural form. However, specimens
treated this way, unlike the ones left in the folders, lose their colour.
Bob Muma is happy to share his interest in mosses, and is always willing to
help others with identifications. He has participated in a number of workshops
for the Toronto Field Naturalists and students from the Botany Department of the
University of Toronto. He has written (and very recently revised) a booklet for
naturalists with an interest in mosses, A Graphic Guide to Ontario Mosses. The
original booklet received a most favourable review by Harry Williams (1985:
Plant Press 3(3):110). The booklet is illustrated by the author and can be used
by beginners to identify mosses to genus. This approach is most welcome due to
the paucity of introductory literature for field botanists in Ontario.
Robert Muma is an artist and illustrator of long standing. In the late 1920's
he did a series of illustrations for a book on the evolution of animal dentition
by Dr. B. Bensley of the Zoology Department of the University of Toronto. He
also illustrated the Royal Ontario Museum's 1929 handbook, The Mammals of
Ontario. Many of Bob Muma's fine watercolors of mosses decorate his home.
If you wish to read more about mosses and Bob Muma's involvement with them,
refer to the last issue of the Ontario Naturalist (before it became Seasons),
Winter 1979, Volume 19. Bob Muma has three articles in that issue:
"Discovering the Mosses," "Let's make a moss garden”, and
"How to grow your own moss."