Don't know what that green, spongy thing growing on your shaded lawn is? It's probably moss. Read on to learn more about this plant, including the popular types and much more.
The plant kingdom is vast and filled with all sorts of different species, and one of them is moss. It is an interesting plant that people know too little about. There are several types of moss that can be found in yards and gardens. Moss can be an amazing addition to any garden but can also take over if left unchecked. In short, they can make or break your garden!
It's crucial to understand the different types of moss and how to deal with them. This is a comprehensive guide to help you identify the most popular types of moss, including tips for control and removal.
What is Moss?
Mosses are small and flowerless plants commonly grow in shady, moist areas. These low-growing plants don't have roots and a vascular system, which is why they can't grow too tall. They hail from the Bryophyta phylum, and Geological evidence suggests that moss ancestors can be dated back about 470 million years.
There are over 12,000 species of moss, and they come in all sorts of shapes, colors, and sizes. While they typically grow in clusters, some moss species can grow individually. What makes them so prevalent is that they can grow just about anywhere- from the North and South Poles to the equator. They even have the ability to prosper in some of the most unlikely places like the Arctic or various tundra, and more common places like on the roofs of houses or the sides of trees.
While they might not be the most glamorous plants, mosses play an important role in the environment. For example, they help prevent soil erosion and provide homes for small animals and insects. They are often used in gardens as a ground cover because they require very little maintenance and can survive in shady, difficult-to-grow areas. However, they can also be big trouble if they start to take over a garden or lawn, and you will need to eliminate them.
Identified Moss Species
Essentially, there are two recognized moss species: Acrocarpous mosses (Acrocarps) and Pleurocarpous mosses (Pleurocarps). All moss types can be sorted into one of these two categories.
Acrocarpous Mosses (Acrocarps)
Acrocarpous mosses are characterized by having an upright, tufted growth habit. They grow in mounds and have erect, unbranched stems, and the leaves come out of the stems and don't have a regularly pinnate structure. Rather, they're spirally arranged or random. They can't tolerate excessive moisture and prefer shady, humid habitats.
Pleurocarpous Mosses (Pleurocarps)
Pleurocarpous mosses, on the other hand, have a creeping growth habit. They don't have erect stems, and their leaves are spirally arranged. The leaves are also regularly pinnate and have a more feather-like structure. These grow fast and spread like a carpet having a shabby appearance. They're commonly found in shady, moist habitats and have a better tolerance to moisture than Acrocarpous.
Characteristics of Moss
As mentioned above, there are over 12000 species and subspecies of moss. They have unique features; however, all moss plants share some key characteristics: Let's get to know them better.
- While most people think of the moss as green, these plants can grow in several colors, including red, yellow, and orange.
- This plant grows in clumps or mats and can be found in various habitats, including woodlands, on the forest floor, and rocks and trees.
- Moss has very simple leaves and does not produce flowers or seeds. Instead, moss reproduces by releasing spores.
- Some moss species can absorb about 20 times water of their weight.
- Moss does not have a vascular system, which means it cannot transport water or nutrients throughout its body.
- They have radial symmetry, and if you cut them down along the long axis, you will get two similar halves.
- Mosses typically have a thin, green, spongy body and are often confused with lichens, hornworts, and liverworts.
- They grow fast in humid and shady conditions and can be a nuisance on your lawn.
- Mosses evolve slowly, comparatively 2 to 3 times slower than similar plants such as ferns.
- They go through an alternation of the generation life cycle. This means that they have both a haploid stage, where it only has one set of chromosomes and a diploid stage with two sets.
Popular Moss Types
This segment discusses some of the most popular moss species that you might come across.
Scientific name: Rhytidiadelphus Triquetrus
Shaggy moss is a moss species hailing from the Hylocomiaceae family. As the name implies, the plant is characterized by its shaggy appearance. Also known by its other names like big shaggy moss and rough goose neck moss, another common name is electrified cat's tail moss, which comes from its tail-like appearance. It's a perennial plant that ranges between about 5 to 20 cm (2 to 8 inches).
Native to the forests of the Midwest Pacific, Europe, and North America, the plant prefers shady and humid conditions. It thrives best in humus-rich and moist soil and occasionally grows on logs, trees, and in gravelly soils. The unkempt look provides a unique texture and is often used as an ornamental plant or landscaping.
Scientific name: Atrichum Undulatum
Native to Eurasia and North America, this plant is a member of the peat moss family. It's popularly known as big star moss and wafting moss because it appears as such from an aerial view. This moss type has unique dark green foliage with narrow leaves having a stiff texture and white streaks. The leaves have toothed margins and are spirally arranged.
It also has erect and simple shoots that grow up to about 10 cm (3.93") in height. The plant is loved for its aesthetic appeal and is often used as an ornamental plant in gardens. These plants flourish in partial to full shade and love moisture because they turn crisp brown when dry.
American Tree Moss
Scientific name: Climacium Americanum
This is a small, tufted moss commonly found on the forest floor or trees. It has a yellow-green color and is characterized by its erect, unbranched stems. The leaves of this moss are spirally arranged and have a pinnate structure. This moss species is native to North America and is a common sight along streamlines and woodlands.
American tree moss is widespread for its aesthetic appeal and is used in wreaths and other decorative arrangements. The plant requires dappled sunlight to moderate shade and thrives best in moist conditions. If given abundant moisture and water, they will grow longer, lush, and beautiful.
Scientific name: Ceratodon Purpureus
Anyone would agree that's a cool name, and the plant is pretty fiery-looking as well. The name comes from its attribute of being able to grow even in burnt areas. The plant is widespread with several other names: redshank, purple fork moss, ceratodon moss, fire moss, and purple horn-toothed moss.
It's a small moss that reaches a height of about 3 cm (1.18") and is found globally. Their stems are about 1.3 cm (0.5"), and they grow in a bunch forming dense foliage with thread-like leaves. These leaves are deep green and turn red as they mature. This moss type thrives in soil rich in nitrogen and requires moist conditions for growth.
Common Peat Moss
Scientific name: Sphagnum Centrale
Originating from the Northern Hemisphere, this plant is now found throughout the world in damp and shady areas. Probably the most popular type of moss, Sphagnum Moss, is commonly known as peat moss. Due to its growth habits, this species has several other names, like bog moss and quacker moss. Peat moss plants are characterized by their small and simple leaves with a conical shape.
These moss plants can absorb about 16 to 26 times water of their dry weight. They are widely used as a soil amendment and potting mix because of their water-retention capacity. Peat moss is also used as a fuel, packing material, and construction material.
Scientific name: Racomitrium Canescens
This is a unique moss species known for being drought-resistant, and unlike many other moss types, they can thrive in hot climates. They are highly adaptable and can grow well in semi-shade locations or sandpits. Also known as "hoary fringe moss," it has a bright green to yellow-green color.
It's a low-growing perennial moss of about 8 cm (3.15") that forms a dense tuft. The leaves are oblong-shaped and taper at the tips. They have a toothed margin, and their surface is covered in tiny granules (giving them a "hoary" appearance). The green leaves close and turn pale green to grayish when it's too dry. And it will turn back to green after rain or when given enough moisture.
Common Tamarisk Moss
Scientific name: Thuidium Tamariscinum
This evergreen moss is native to North America, Europe, and Asia. It's common in warm environments growing on rocks, logs, and trees. These are commonly called "fern moss" as their branches resemble ferns. They have delicate foliage with feather-like leaves, giving a lacy appearance. The moss reassembles cedar leaves and is deep green, while the stems are burgundy in color.
Unlike other moss species, this one flourishes in both alkaline and acidic soil. In their natural habitat - damp places - they can grow in dense tufts. The moss is an excellent ground cover for any garden.
Glittering Wood Moss
Scientific name: Hylocomium Splendens
This beautiful moss is widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere Boreal forests and is commonly found in Europe, Canada, Russia, and Alaska. Owing to their attributes, they have got several names, such as splendid feather moss, stair step moss, and mountain fern moss. The moss gets its name from the way it sparkles in the sunlight. It's a low-growing plant with reddish stems and branches that can grow up to 20 cm (7.8").
This moss is typically olive-green, reddish-green, or yellowish, and they have a unique growing habit. The new branches grow from the middle of the previous year's branch. The leaves are arranged in a way that they look like steps, which gives the plant a bushy appearance. This moss requires shady and moist conditions and can grow in soil and humus.
Common Haircap Moss
Scientific name: Polytrichum Commune
This perennial evergreen moss is found in the Northern Hemisphere. The name comes from the hairy-looking Capsule, which is a spore-bearing structure. However, it has several names, including common haircap, great golden maidenhair, and great goldilocks. This moss is easily identifiable as they are quite tall for a moss reaching about 30 cm (12") and occasionally over 70 cm (27.5").
However, the spiky foliage with deep and pale green hue leaves is the most striking feature. This gives a fantastic aesthetic appeal as they look like small stars when looked at from a distance. It grows best in acidic and moist soils that are rich in nutrients. The plant also needs full sunlight to partial shade and dappled sunlight to prosper.
Scientific name: Hypnum Imponens
This carpet-forming moss type is categorized for its large patches of dense growth. It's dubbed brocade because it appears like an embroidered fabric. The plant is characterized by its erect and simple stems that touch the height of about 3 to 10 cm (1.18" to 3.9"). It has shiny, rich green leaves with an ovate shape and a glossy texture.
The moss type commonly sprouts on soil or rocks in shady and humid conditions. You can also find it on rotting logs, tree stumps, sand-covered rocks, etc. It's a fast-growing plant and can quickly cover an area if not monitored. Give it moist soil and moderate shade, and it will grow into a healthy plant.
Heath Star Moss
Scientific name: Campylopus Introflexus
Heath star is a fast-growing moss native to the Southern Hemisphere and is well distributed in Southern America and Africa, Atlantic and Pacific Islands. They typically grow in fence posts, wood, logs, and thatched roofs. Despite the fast growth, the plants grow up to about 0.5 to 5 cm (0.20" to 1.97").
It's called Tankmos (tank moss) in the Netherlands and Belgium, as it's commonly found in old water tanks. The plant has a yellow-green to brown color, and the red stems are quite stiff. However, the plant loses its bright green color and turns almost black when it gets old. In their ideal growing condition, they can even grow invasive.
Baby Tooth Moss
Scientific name: Plagiomnium Cuspidatum
Hailing from North America, this short-lived perennial evergreen moss type is also found throughout Africa, Europe, and Northern and Southern Asia. The name comes from the leaves that have toothed edges. They are also known as plagiomnium moss and woodsy thyme moss. This plant features capsule-like foliage accompanied by long stalks on each fertile shoot.
These stalks are about 2 to 3 cm (0.78" to 1.18") high, while the plant touches the height of 10 cm (3.9"). Their leaves give off a translucent appearance and have a yellow-green hue. The plant prefers cold temperatures and can grow in any type of soil. Plus, birds often use these plants while building their nests.
Dwarf Haircap Moss
Scientific name: Pogonatum Aloides
This unique-looking moss is a member of the Polytrichaceae family and is found in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. It's a small plant with small shoots of about 1 cm (0.38"). They look like small aloes with their small and stiff triangular leaves arranged in a rosette-like fashion.
These miniature aloe vera can make an excellent ground cover for any garden. They love moisture and can prosper in both shady and sunny areas. However, it thrives in sheltered locations but can't tolerate the sun for long. It prefers loose, acidic soil for its growth and is a common sight in coastal areas.
Common Fern moss
Scientific name: Thuidium Delicatulum
This is a pleurocarpous moss native to North and South America and is found from Alaska to Brazil. It's a fast-growing moss that mostly grows on rocks and moist locations. They are almost identical to ferns but have a shabbier look, hence the name. Another famous name is log moss, which comes from their growth habit as they are commonly seen on logs.
Common fern moss has a deep green color with somewhat conical-shaped leaves having a velvet texture. Fern moss can prosper in sunny and shady areas and prefers moist soil. They are used as packing material, ornamental decorations in wreaths, and terrariums.
also tolerate some sun. It's commonly used as a ground cover or in gardens and terrariums.
Ribbed Bog Moss
Scientific name: Aulacomnium Palustre
This is a small-sized moss that is widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere. Their distribution is nearly cosmopolitan, and they are commonly found in woods, heaths, and open areas. They have a fast growth rate, growing in dense tufts and forming bulky moss mats. This growing habit has dubbed them bog groove moss.
The plant's stems are erect and spreading and are about 3 to 9 cm (1.18" to 3.54") in length. The leaves are lanceolate-shaped and twist when they dry. The plant gives an incandescent vibe with bright yellow-green to green leaves, making it great for ornamental purposes. They are found in woods, heaths, and open areas and prefer shady and moist conditions.
Scientific name: Dicranum Scoparium
Coming from North America, this moss is also distributed in Europe, Asia, Northern Africa, and Australia. They are commonly found on shady sites with moist soil, such as woods, heaths, and mountainous regions. This plant is a medium-sized moss that can grow up to about 2 to 8 cm (0.7" to 3.14"). They grow in a coarse manner forming tufts having wooly stems.
Mood moss has a deep green color with lance-shaped leaves and is strongly toothed. Popularly known as broom fork moss, they share similarities with pincushion moss in their growing habitat, but their leaves set them apart. The plant prefers shady and moist conditions and cannot tolerate sun and dry conditions.
Scientific name: Leucobryum Glaucum
Popular for their acrocarpous growth, these are perennial moss widely distributed in eastern North America and Europe. They are also known as pin cushion moss due to their growing habit in mounds. The color of the foliage varies from grayish-green to medium green. Each plant is about 1 to 12 cm (0.39" to 4.7") in size and has a crinkled appearance.
The leaves are lanceolate-shaped and are toothless with a slight upward curve. They are found in woods, heaths, and open areas in terms of distribution. This is a very adaptive moss that can thrive in several soils and tolerate dry conditions. The pincushion plant is often used for ornamental purposes and can be seen growing on walls, roofs, and gardens.
Warnsdorff’s Peat Moss
Scientific name: Sphagnum Warnstorfii
The Warnsdorff's Peat Moss is among the most popular moss types due to their varied abilities. They are widely used in horticulture and gardening as they are excellent soil conditioners. These plants can support soil amendment and help grow other plants. The moss type is native to Europe, Asia, and North America.
This moss is related to sphagnum moss as warnsdorff's peat moss is its by-product. In fact, it's also known as fen peat moss, and it's highly cultivated in Peru and New Zealand. The plant is green to red and has a strong, earthy smell. It's often used as a mulch or soil conditioner due to its high absorbency.
Scientific name: Hypnum Cupressiforme
This is one of the most widespread mosses found in every continent except Antarctica. The plant commonly grows on sandy sites such as rocks, soil, and trees. This moss can also be found on man-made structures such as roofs, walls, and pavements. These are small to medium plants ranging between 2 to 10 cm (0.78" to 3.93").
The plant has a yellow-green to dark green color with branchlets that are arranged to look like cypress leaves. They grow in tufts or mats and are great at covering large areas. Owing to this attribute, they are also known as carpet or sheet moss. The plant prefers shady and moist conditions but can
Scientific name: Polytrichum Juniperinum
This is probably the most widespread moss species found on every continent, including Antarctica. Given their wide distribution, they can grow in different habitats but are commonly found in areas with dry, acidic soil. They appear very similar to haircap moss; they are also called juniper haircap, but their red-brown tip differentiates them.
The plant has deep green foliage that is arranged in a rosette-like fashion. Their leaves are lanceolate and give a spiky feel to the plant, plus they spread widely when moist. This evergreen and perennial moss species are great at colonizing open areas. They are also used as a medical plant for treating kidney stones or herb tea.
Scientific name: Ptilium Crista-castrensis
This moss is well known with a rather interesting name, such as ostrich-plume feather moss, and is native to Canada and Northern Europe. Another popular name for this plant is "knight's plume moss" because its feathers look like a knight's helmet. The plant has a yellow-green to dark green color and is 1 to 10 cm (0.39" to 3.93") in size.
The leaves are arranged alternately in 2 rows and have a distinctive feather-like structure. With deep green foliage, this plant is commonly used as an ornamental moss. The plant is found on open sites, woods, and heaths. They are great at colonizing open areas and prefer shady and moist conditions.
Water Screw Moss
Scientific name: Syntrichia Latifolia
Hailing from the Pacific Northwest regions of North America and Europe, this is a small moss species. This low-growing moss can only reach the maximum height of about 2.54 cm (1"); however, they possess an incredible ornamental appeal. Often found growing on trees, old fence posts, sidewalks, and concrete. The plants are yellowish-green and can also appear dull green, and they have broad leaves growing in clusters surrounding the burgundy stems.
While the young leaves are yellowish-green, they turn orange or brown as they grow old. This moss species do well in shaded places with moist conditions. If your lawn or garden doesn't receive direct sunlight, you can use this plant. This is an ideal option to enhance the aesthetics of your lawn without compromising the health of your grass.
Rigid Beard Moss
Scientific name: Didymodon Rigidulus
This small moss is widely distributed in North America, Europe, and Canada. They are commonly found on open sites, woods, and heaths. The plant is only 0.5 to 1 cm (0.20" to 0.39") in size and has a yellow-green to green color. The leaves are erect and have a sharp point at the tip. They are oblong-shaped and have a toothed margin.
It is among the Didymodon species famous for producing dense carpet-like emerald green foliage. This attribute makes them fit for ornamental and landscaping purposes. While it thrives
Shiny Seductive Moss
Scientific name: Entodon Seductrix
This moss species is native to North America and is known for its rapid growth. Unlike other moss species, this one loves full sun and does well in sunny spots. Commonly found in the old wooden fence post and rotten logs, they have a fast sideways growing pattern. They can quickly cover an area and smother other plants in the process.
The plant is a small tufted moss with dark green foliage, which is shiny, as the name implies. This is a feather type of moss, and the leaves are arranged in two rows. Their tufted appearance makes them ideal for ground covers in rock gardens.
Spoon Leaved Moss
Scientific name: Bryoandersonia Illecebra
This is a small, yellow-green plant native to eastern North America. The moss is shiny, green to greenish yellow-brown, and is typically found on tree trunks, stumps, and logs. They are preferred for their unique appearance, with creeping stems and intertwined stems forming dense mats. Their worm-like, cylindrical shoots are bright green and give them a distinctive look.
The leaves are closely overlapping, deeply concave, and cupped like a bowl spoon. This is where it gets the name "spoon moss." It's closely related to plume moss in terms of habitat choice. The plant works well in shady, moist locations and can tolerate some sun. However, this moss species is considered threatened in some regions.
Tousled Treasure/Callicladium Moss
Scientific name: Callicladium Haldanianum
This is a small tufted moss native to Europe and North America. The plant is often found in woodlands, forest floors, and trees. It's a small plant with glossy, dark foliage and red spores. The plant prefers shady to sunny locations and moist to dry conditions.
It grows long branching, dense tufts that stretch outward and give a carpet-like appearance. They are often used as ground covers and landscaping due to their attributes. The plant is tolerant of heavy traffic and can grow in poor soil conditions. This moss can be an attractive addition to any lawn or garden.
Silky Forklet Moss
Scientific name: Dicranella Heteromalla
This is a small moss that's widely distributed all over the world. These are recognized for their habit of growing and forming cushions or patches on different surfaces. This Acrocarpous moss is typically found in tree ditches, woodlands, and stumps. These patches are spread but small as the plant measures about 3 cm (1.18").
The plant has long, narrow, yellow-green leaves curled in the same direction when moist. When dry, the leaves will uncurl and lie flat. The plant prefers shady locations, can tolerate some sun and thrives in acidic soil. They are used as ground covers and landscaping due to their ability to form a dense mat.
Factors to Identify Moss
As we discussed above, there are many types of moss, but how do you identify which one is growing on your lawn? These are some factors that help you determine the type of moss:
The color of the moss can help you identify the type of moss. For instance, green moss is most likely to be of the common type, while red moss is likely to be of the Callicladium moss.
The texture of the moss can also help you determine the type. For instance, soft and spongy moss is most likely to be of the Warnsdorff's peat moss type, while stiff and coarse moss is likely to be of the water screw type.
Mosses are often found in shady, moist locations. However, there are some species that can tolerate drought and sunny locations. You can identify the moss type with its habitat. For instance, if the moss grows on trees, it's most likely to be of the tousled treasure type. If the moss grows on concrete or sidewalks, it's likely to be of the water screw type.
Another factor that can help you determine the type of moss is its smell. For instance, if the moss has a strong, earthy smell, it's most likely of the Warnsdorff's peat moss type.
The shape and size of the leaves are also great signs to identify a moss type. If the leaves are small and grow in clusters, it's most likely to be of the water screw type. If the leaves are broad and grow in a rosette pattern, it's likely to be of the Dwarf Haircap or Juniper moss.
Uses of Moss
Now that you know the different types of moss and how to identify them, you must be curious about their uses. Mosses have a wide range of uses, and these uses include traditional to more modern implications.
Moss has been in use for centuries as a ground cover in gardens. It is easy to grow and requires very little maintenance. It is often used in shady areas where other plants have difficulty growing. Moss gardens are becoming increasingly popular as people look for alternatives to traditional lawns.
Source of Water and Nutrients
Moss absorbs large amounts of water and is often used to help prevent soil erosion. Due to their sponge-like qualities, mosses can also help retain moisture in the soil and be a great water source. Moss is often used as a mulch around trees and shrubs. It helps prevent evaporation and keeps the roots of plants cool in hot weather. It is also used as a bioretention plant to help filter stormwater.
Mosses are often used as a firestarter. They easily catch fire and burn slowly when dry, making them ideal for starting campfires and fires in fireplaces. This counts for the traditional use of moss; however, it is still widely used.
Dressing of Wounds
Moss has also been used medicinally for centuries. It is known to have antimicrobial properties and has been used to dress wounds. Mosses are also used in compresses to help relieve muscle pain. It has small leaves that absorb a lot of liquid, making it a natural wound dressing. In addition, it is good for treating rashes.
Mosses are not just limited to traditional uses. In recent years, these plants have been used in the culinary world. Mosses are often used as a garnish or decoration on plates. These plants can also be used in salads or as a flavoring in soups and stews. Although they are not commonly eaten, a few species are used in Japanese and other cuisines.
They have high water content and are good at retaining heat. This makes them ideal for insulating homes and buildings. Mosses can be used in various ways for insulation, including using them as filler in walls and ceilings or as insulation for pipes. You can also add moss to your compost pile as it helps to retain moisture and adds nutrients to the soil.
These are some of the ways moss is used. As you can see, this plant has a wide range of uses, both traditional and modern. Whether you want a ground cover for your garden or a decoration for your plate, you can do it with moss.
Pros and Cons of Using Moss
If you are going for any of the uses listed above, you should be aware of the pros and cons of using moss in general.
- Moss is easy to grow and requires very little maintenance.
- They can absorb large amounts of water and are often used to help prevent soil erosion.
- The plant is versatile and adaptive; hence you don't need to use any fertilizers. This also makes them environment friendly.
- It's visually appealing and can be used for decoration.
- Moss has antimicrobial properties and has been used to dress wounds.
- Moss can be a host for many different types of fungi which might not be good for your health if you have a compromised immune system.
- The plant may help promote the spread of an invasive species like liverwort.
- Since they grow fast and dense, they can take over other plants and might suffocate them.
Ways of Getting Rid of Moss
If you encounter moss growing in your lawn or garden and you don't want it there, here are some tips you can resort to getting rid of it.
- The most common way is to simply rake it up and dispose of it. Using a shovel to dig it up can come in handy.
- If the moss grows on a hard surface, like concrete, you can use a stiff brush to scrub it off.
- You can also kill moss with chemicals, like herbicides. Be cautious when using herbicides, as they can also kill other plants.
- Another option is a solution of vinegar and water to kill moss. Simply mix 1 part vinegar with 3 parts water and spray it on the moss. The acidity in the vinegar mix will kill the moss.
- You can also use salt as it can kill most moss types. Simply sprinkle salt on the moss, and it will die. However, some types of moss are salt-tolerant, so this method may not work on all mosses.
- Finally, you can try to discourage moss growth by ensuring the area is well-lit and ventilated. Moss prefers shady, damp areas. If you can make the area less hospitable for moss, it will eventually die off.
These are some of the ways to get rid of moss. Depending on your situation, you have a lot of options to choose from. You can either rake it up, dig it up, or kill it with chemicals. Lastly, whichever method you choose, make sure you do it safely and carefully.