Moss – The Good, Bad and Ugly

Moss the Good

Moss, you either love it or you hate it. You might be making up a blender concoction to grow your own, or you might be mixing up a mossicide to eradicate it from your north facing shingles.

It is beautiful inside. Many interior display items are made enhanced with moss.

An Old Mossed Terra-Cotta Pot, Veranda March 2010

Traditional Home September 2010

From a coffee table moss filled urn to…

Traditional Home September 2010

an entry table sphere.

I am partial to it in its natural woodland, streamside setting, and I have a lot of respect for it. Because, when you think how moss has no roots, seeds, or vascular system, it has to work really hard to build up itself into a formidable infrastructure.

It will send out millions of spores to start new growth of only a couple of inches and only a small number actually succeed. The spores face huge odds to take hold of bare rock and reproduce. There are different varieties of moss and they are very specific to their growing habitats. Also, they are specific to those that use or inhabit it.

Moss is an incredible microflora, and seen under a microscope, looks like a little forest itself, made up of stalks and leaves.

Moss Under a Microscope from

Moss looks great in a bonsai display. It is perfectly scaled to make a pleasing miniature landscape, but…

The Bad (or at least somewhat worrisome)

Some scientists are a bit worried about the collection of moss from the forest floor and the effect it will have from an ecological impact perspective.

Gatherers stuff hundred year old moss pelts into burlap sacks because it is sought by nurseries, florists and craft stores. Some have determined that moss, a renewable resource, may recover at a rate of about one percent a year. Considering that it may have taken one hundred years to make a wooly pelt at the base of a tree, that is a very slow and negligable recovery.

Maples and Oaks Swaddled in Moss, the Lush Wooly Pelts at the Base of the Trees (Sorry this photo is not clearer of the moss, it was taken for the lighting through the trees.)

And the moss on the forest floor is home to many small creatures such as mites, springtails and microscopic rotifers. There is even a seabird, a marbled murrelet, which nests on moss mats.

You might think twice now when adding it to your next bonsai.

Veranda, August 2010

I have found that moss growing on my pavers does regrow rather rapidly, but in forest circumstance, the findings seem to be very different. I have harvested moss from my backyard like they show above and below, to be used to enhance a tablescape or planter.

The Ugly ( no denying this one)

Moss retains several times its weight in water. On the forest floor this is great, serving as a humidifier, but on your roof that is a different story.

The moss itself does not cause roof damage, but speeds along shingle decomposition because of the moisture it retains. And by retaining water, the roof can not dry out.

Also as you can see above, seeking cool, damp and shaded locations, the moss will start to lift and curl shingles as it continues to grow unimpeaded.

So, moss can be viewed as beautiful, necessary, overlooked, bothersome and unwanted. We have had a contradictory relationship with it for a very long time. It has been here much longer than us, and as a primitive plant, it is only partly understood in its relationship to the forest ecology.


19 thoughts on “Moss – The Good, Bad and Ugly

  1. I do love moss in the right environment. I hadn’t read about people stealing it from the forest floor which is really very sad. I have an area in my garden where moss flourishes because it is wet and shady. Such beautiful shades of green. I would love to be able to identify the different types of moss. Do you know of a good book or web site for identification?

  2. I just read a wonderful book on mosses— educational informative, but a really great read too, with life insights and beautiful descriptions. I highly recommend Gathering Moss by Robin Kimmerer. It expands on what you’ve shown so beautifully here.

  3. I absolutely love our old house which was completely overshadowed by huge trees it was everywhere and it was gorgeous except on the roof…we would wash it off there but left it at the new house we have it on the old trees they left on the property and it is so beautiful….and I love it on things in the house but had no idea people were poaching awful..

  4. The picture of the moss growing from the pot is really lovely. But I would rather have them grow naturally then to buy them. So long as the condition is right, they will appear … sooner or later. Thanks for another informative post.

  5. Somehow for me moss belongs in the woods and by the creek, not inside the house, so I wouldn’t be buying it anyway:). Thank you for another very informative post.

  6. I really enjoyed this post; I especially like the microscopic view of moss. I love moss. It has taken years for moss to grow over my woodland paths, and I think it has romantic appeal. It gives a feeling of age and history.

  7. I went for a magical walk in our local woods the other day, the moss was truly amazing. I suspect it may be yet another thing that once we better understand its place in the ecosystem we will wonder what on earth we were playing at ripping it up by the armful to make our home look prettier. Surely we could learn to cultivate it for use by florists etc and protect it in the wild? Lovely post Donna.

  8. I didn’t think moss could ever by ugly, but agree that on roof shingles, or on pavers where it can be slippery for people to walk, it is not a good thing. But oh, so magical. I hope the gathered moss recovers and/or people figure out not to take it from the wild. I could sell them some, relatively cheaply…. 🙂

  9. We have some lovely areas of moss here on the property during the winter rains. I never really thought about people harvesting it out of the woodlands. I was going to say that there’s nothing ugly about moss…until I saw the photo of the roof…and remembered the bruise on me knee this winter after skidding on some moss on our deck. For the most part though, bruises aside, I do think moss is simply beautiful!

  10. I love moss and wish it would take over my whole lawn. I did finally remove it, reluctantly, from my roof–so much prettier than asphalt shingles. You are so right about collecting it from the wild. The bottom line is really that nothing should be collected for the wild, and we need to be responsible for determining the origins of what we buy—no one else will take care of this for us.

  11. Donna, I have been instructed by the one close to me that I like moss, I actually do now after opening my eyes to it. The birds in Spring come down to our pond edge and gather the moss for their nests.

  12. I always love a scene with mosses like those green rockies. However, in our area they all die during the dry season, just like the ferns and everything else. Even some fruit trees not spared. Mosses in cement blocks lining the terraced structure in our property looks so lovely during rainy season, but they say it has to be scraped because it weakens cement. Yes of course, with water their roots certainly will little by little will decay cement. So this is good and bad also even in a specific spot. than ks.

  13. So many of our natural beauties are plundered from their habitat for financial gain, it saddens me. I did not know, people were taking moss from the forests, sigh.

    Very educational and as always a delight for the eye.

  14. Not only do they steal it from forest floor, they steal it from other people’s property. Several years ago on my in-laws’ farm, I heard a noise in the nearby woods and, thinking it was a deer, went to investigate. I didn’t find anyone, but 2 garbage cans (full size) stuffed to the brim with moss from our trees. Whoever it was had climbed over our border fence and run away the same way they came, when they heard my dog. It was really sad to see all that moss removed and now just rotting in the cans, so we just spread it out in the forest. It must have been destined for sale to a florist I guess.

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