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What Is Moss?

By S. Scolari
Updated May 21, 2024
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Moss is a very simple type of plant that lacks conventional roots, stems, and leaves. The name refers to any species of the class Bryopsida and is part of the division Bryophyta. Bryophyta means the first green land plants to develop during the evolutionary process. It is thought to have evolved from very primitive vascular plants, and it has not given rise to any other plant life.

Lacking traditional vascular structures of true leaves, stems, and roots, moss growth is limited to moist locations. It is usually very hardy and grows almost everywhere, except under the sea. The plant usually grows vertically. Except for species in the commercially viable Sphagnum genus, it is generally of little use to humans or animals, although it is sometimes eaten in times of famine.

Moss is sometimes used to fill in barren habitats such as in dried lakes. It is also used to provide a backdrop for other plants in gardens, or simply to add color where grass refuses to grow.


Unrelated plants can share the name. These includes club moss; flowering moss; carageen, which is a type of algae sometimes used in health foods; reindeer moss, which is actually a lichen; and Spanish moss. Spanish moss is usually regarded as a parasite, since it often grows on other plants, such as oak trees. It grows in long streamers and is often seen in the Southern states of the US.

The Japanese have gardened with moss for centuries. Valued for its reduced need for watering, its greenness is considered to add a feeling of lushness and serenity to Japanese gardens.

This plant is often used in rock gardens or with water gardens, ferns, or ponds because it needs so little maintenance. With concerns about drought growing in different parts of America, it has become an increasingly desirable alternative to high-maintenance grass lawns and conventional gardens using shade plants.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is moss and how does it differ from other plants?

Moss is a type of non-vascular plant belonging to the division Bryophyta. Unlike flowering plants, mosses lack true roots, stems, and leaves, and do not produce seeds. Instead, they have rhizoids for anchorage, simple leaves, and reproduce via spores. Mosses are known for their ability to thrive in damp, shady environments where other plants might struggle.

Where can moss typically be found growing?

Mosses are incredibly adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats worldwide, from dense forests to rocky outcrops. They prefer moist, shaded areas but can also grow on tree bark, rocks, and soil. Some species are even found in arid desert climates where they survive by going dormant until moisture is available.

How does moss reproduce if it doesn't have flowers or seeds?

Mosses reproduce through a process called spore dispersal. They produce spores in small capsules that, when mature, release the spores into the air. These spores land in suitable environments and grow into new moss plants. Some mosses also reproduce asexually through fragmentation, where a piece of the plant breaks off and grows independently.

Is moss beneficial to its environment, and if so, how?

Yes, moss is highly beneficial to its environment. It helps to stabilize soil and retain moisture, which can prevent erosion and support the growth of other plants. Mosses also provide habitat for a range of microfauna. Additionally, they are important bioindicators, as their presence can reveal the health of an ecosystem.

Can moss cause damage to structures like roofs or sidewalks?

While moss itself is not harmful, it can contribute to the deterioration of man-made structures such as roofs and sidewalks by retaining moisture. This moisture can lead to the breakdown of roofing materials or freeze-thaw cycles that crack concrete. However, the damage is often more cosmetic than structural and can be managed with regular maintenance.

How can someone grow moss in their garden or terrarium?

To grow moss in a garden or terrarium, you need to create a suitable environment that mimics its natural habitat. This includes ensuring adequate moisture, shade, and a substrate like soil or wood for the moss to grow on. Moss can be transplanted as whole clumps or grown from spores, and it requires minimal maintenance once established.

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Discussion Comments

By Crimea — On Jan 30, 2014

I love moss! It is like a green fuzzy carpet that is natural and incredible to the touch.

There are a variety of ways to promote moss growth, but mixing it with buttermilk and spreading over a damp area with a paintbrush seems to work best.

By Perdido — On May 11, 2012

I like to grow rose moss. It grows low to the ground and has fern-like projections for leaves. The flowers are multicolored and resemble roses.

I don't think it has actual flower stems. The same stem-like structure that runs across the whole plant is what both the leaves and flowers grow off of, and the entire plant can be yanked out of the ground way too easily.

Unlike most moss that requires lots of moisture, rose moss can survive drought-like conditions. It does better when watered once a week or more, but if water is unavailable, it can still live for quite some time.

By seag47 — On May 11, 2012

I saw a lot of beautiful Spanish moss in 2007 when I vacationed at Tybee Island, Georgia. I had to drive through Savannah to get there, and all the old oaks that lined the streets were draped in moss.

This moss looks so elegant, as if it were put there on purpose as a decoration. It is a greenish-gray color, and it hangs down like a lacy curtain cut into sections. When the wind blows, it looks truly haunting.

I have seen Spanish moss on trees in several Southern states close to the Gulf coast. Mississippi and Alabama both have it in their southernmost areas.

By cloudel — On May 10, 2012

@orangey03 – I love it when moss pops up by surprise! There is some growing in a shady area of the pasture beside my house, and I love to go lie down on it.

This moss isn't like the close-cropped kind that grows in most lawns. It is thicker, and it reminds me of a fluffy, plush carpet. The pieces of greenery are longer, so it is super soft.

I tried to transplant some of it to my yard, but I guess my soil isn't moist enough, because it died. It sure would have been nice to have had some growing close to the house.

By orangey03 — On May 10, 2012

I have some lawn moss, and I absolutely love it. I didn't even have to plant it. It just appeared one day, after my little shade trees had grown enough to provide adequate shade to my yard.

The area where the moss grows is shaded all the time. This helps conserve the moisture in the soil and create ideal growing conditions for the moss.

It always feels cool on my bare feet. It is so soft and soothing, especially if I've been walking in sandals in the heat and I take them off to walk on the moss.

By anon134380 — On Dec 14, 2010

how does moss get in your trees?

By anon124440 — On Nov 05, 2010

can you die from moss?

By anon24893 — On Jan 19, 2009

can you put what is the difference if moss had vascular tissue in it?

By anon22910 — On Dec 12, 2008

your article is very helpful, but it would be great if it was a little longer, and had some information about moss reproduction!

By thedelands — On Nov 30, 2008

how is moss used in other cultures?

By anon17748 — On Sep 06, 2008

Does moss grow mostly on the north side of a tree?

By anon5877 — On Dec 09, 2007

How is Moss of use to the Chinese and West Indian cultures?

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