You’ve probably heard the phrase “a rolling stone gathers no moss” or look for moss on a tree for the direction north, if you’re lost in the woods (true in most areas except the Northwest where moss can grow on all sides of a tree because of the dampness).
So, essentially moss is a green plant, a very small hardy plant, sometimes only one cell thick, that grows slowly. It uses light for photosynthesis to produce nutrients to grow just like regular plants. Some 540 million years ago, before animals walked on the land, moss was growing. Moss plants have no roots, buds or seeds, only leaves, stems and thin stringy filaments called rhizoids to anchor themselves to rocks and trees.
They do produce spores like ferns to reproduce and depend on wind for dispersal. They do need to be near water or a humid environment to absorb nutrients into their cells directly. You can find moss anywhere from the tropics to the Polar Regions, everywhere but in salt water. There are more than 12,000 different species of moss. Its lifespan is usually two to 10 years depending on the species. Since moss only grows in a clean environment, they are a very good indicator of pollution in any area.
If you are wondering, why and how can I use moss, here are a few more interesting facts. They are the first plants to grow on rocky land and by breaking down rocks and soil they help create an environment for regular plants to grow. They absorb moisture, acting like sponges which helps prevent soil erosion. People have used mosses for many reasons. In World War II, Sphagnum moss was used as a bandage to stop bleeding wounds and it had some antibiotic effects, too. I’ve read, in Mexico, moss is used in Christmas decorations. In the past, people burned moss to heat their homes or used it as flour in famine times. Many Japanese gardeners grow moss to create gardens that look ancient, peaceful and are calming to our senses. My photo of the Japanese Zen Garden in Portland, Oregon that I had a chance to visit this past April, is a calm meditative place. All the greenery you see, except the trees, are different types of moss.
There are several retailers on the internet that sell different varieties of moss. The trend by landscapers, designers and gardeners, looking for sustainable shade loving plants that can replace lawns or be low maintenance, no-mow alternatives to grass lawns, are discovering mosses.
The florist trade and decoration business have used moss for many years in terrariums, topiaries, fairy gardens and floral displays. Sphagnum moss is used by the nursery industry as a plant growth medium. Moss is an excellent alternative to mulch since it absorbs water, prevents erosion and debris can be blown off easily because of its compact growth habit. It is also useful in mosquito control since it does not become stagnant, but purifies water.
I hope I have peaked your curiosity as to the benefits of this ancient landscape resource. Any comments are welcome.