Mosses are beautiful and dynamic in the eyes of botanist Ma Wenzhang, who has collected about 2,000 species found in China. [Photo by Ma Wenzhang/China Daily]
The old saying “a rolling stone gathers no moss” has evolved over the years, coming to mean that one must keep moving in order to stay fresh and keen, particularly when it comes to a career. But, what about those who are always moving around, doing so to literally only gather moss?
People like Ma Wenzhang from Chongqing, for example.
You see, in this age of information, having so much knowledge at one’s fingertips is only made possible because of those that seek it out in the first place. As such, when it comes to things like botany, collecting specimens still relies on manual work-people still need to go deep into the forest to pick and identify the plants.
Unlike common specimen administrators who spend most of their time in the herbarium, 39-year-old Ma enjoys fieldwork. His colleagues think he is a “weirdo”-he hikes, climbs, eats wild mushrooms and sleeps with animals, all just to collect moss samples.
He often sleeps in farmers’ homes, forest rangers’ sheds or just camps outdoors.
Ma is responsible for collecting bryophyte specimens for the Herbarium of Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, the second largest herbarium in China.
“The value of specimens is the preservation of information. We can’t go back to the past, but through specimens, we can compare the difference in environment between decades or even centuries, learn about pollution levels in the past, and even extract DNA information,” Ma says.
Each year, he spends around three months in the field, with each trip averaging seven to 15 days. Over the past decade, he has carried out nearly 70 expeditions and collected more than 11,000 bryophyte specimens.
“The small moss can easily be missed by people, but I can recognize it at a glance and identify its species, which is pretty cool,” Ma says.