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What is MOSS?

Visions of green carpets enter our minds and “mossy” smiles appear when the word “MOSS” is mentioned. Yet, there are many misconceptions and myths about MOSSES beginning with the term moss.

These miniature plants are so tiny that colonies are confused as “the plant” instead of many, many plants growing together. Somehow, it has become common for people to refer to the collective of entire colonies and bryophtye types, in the singular – MOSS. While this singular terminology might not be grammatically correct or fit within scientific acceptability, “moss” is now popularly used interchangeably like deer (single animal) or deer (herd of deer). However as a horticulturalist, botanist, environmentalist or plain old moss lover, it becomes important to move beyond grouping all mosses together as one. Making distinctions in bryophytes (moss types) is essential to understanding how to use them successfully in planned landscapes. The environmental benefits of bryophytes are truly amazing, offering surprising solutions for shade and sun exposures in all types of climates and for growth on a variety of substrates.


More correctly... What are Bryophytes?

Mosses, and their cousins, liverworts and hornworts, are classified as Bryophyta (bryophytes) in the Plant Kingdom.

MountainMoss_Consultation_004Considered by botanists some of the oldest plants, bryophytes date back 450 million years. That's 50 million years before vascular plants like ferns appeared on Planet Earth. Their unique characteristics have enabled mosses to withstand desiccation while subjected to extremes in climate changes – a testament to their sustainability and longevity. As we learn more about bryophytes, it becomes more apparent that mosses offer “green” solutions for emerging and traditional landscape applications.

It is estimated more than 20,000 different bryophyte species have been identified throughout the world, and there are perhaps 10,000 moss types, approximately 8,000 liverwort species, and only a little more than 100 species of hornworts. Bryophytes can be found around the globe from lush tropical forests to arid deserts to arctic niches. Habitats range from the mountains to the sea. In my part of the world, western North Carolina in the United States, over 450 types of bryophytes exist... and thrive year-round! If bryophytes live all around us, it seems logical they could survive if intentionally introduced into gardens. Featuring these hardy native plants and treating them as a viable horticultural choice is exemplified in Japan's grand moss gardens. Beyond Japanese Tea Gardens, there are many new "green" options to consider. Mosses make excellent "green" plant choices for the modern, environmentally-conscious gardener.


Learn why mosses make a good choice in other sections.