Look around! Do you see any moss?

  • On an old brick wall?
  • On a tree trunk in the forest?
  • In a shady corner of the yard?
  • In an outdoor planter?


When I was a kid, my grandparents would take walks with me to the local park, several blocks from their house. Along that path was a brick wall, lining the edge of a front yard. Along that wall, in edges and crevices especially, fuzzy, dark green patches of moss would appear. They didn’t seem to have much space, nor really need it. They didn’t seem to get much sunlight, just a little filtered through trees above. They also didn’t seem to have need for roots, nor soil, but instead happily grew right where they were. They didn’t mind a kid willing to reach out and pet them a bit, either.

The Mysterious Appearance

It isn’t always clear where it came from, but moss has a habit of appearing in very interesting places. It sneaks into crevices in the sidewalk, or appears partway up a brick wall. It hides in the forest, and in out-of-the-way corners of your backyard. What is this odd plant that we call moss? Where does it come from, how does it grow, and what benefits does it provide for our environment?



  • Moss falls into the PLANT kingdom
  • Moss are in the phylum “Bryophyta”
  • There are at least 12,000 known species of mosses
  • Moss does not have true leaves

What is Moss?

Moss is categorized by biologists as a “lesser plant”. Its ability to gather water is limited to what it encounters directly, from moisture in the air around it and from moisture that falls into its world. Moss cannot pull water from the soil below it, because it does not have the water collection and movement system that other plants have.

What are some other “lesser” plants?

  • Ferns and liverworts

Moss also does not spread by seed, but by spores, much like mushrooms. What is the difference between a seed and a spore, anyway?

  • Seeds develop from flowers, while spores develop without flowers. 

With so many different kinds of moss, it is difficult to know how to tell them all apart. It would even take an expert and a good microscope to be able to identify some varieties from others. That does not mean we cannot appreciate moss. If you find moss in nature, you will notice that different patches of moss have different features– variations in the color, size of the “leaves”, thickness and more. 

Want to go on a moss hunt?

If you live in an area where moss grows well in the wild, why not go for a family walk and see if you can find some? Look around closely, because it may surprise you some of the places you find it growing.

What do you notice about places moss grows?

  • How much sunlight is there in that spot?
  • How much moisture is there? What places might that moisture come from?
  • What is the surface like where the moss is growing? Did you find places where it is on the ground? What about where it is on something besides the ground?
  • Do you see anything else growing around or amongst the moss?

Do you see more than one kind of moss?

  • How are different mosses different?
  • How are they alike?

Have you heard of these types of moss?

Sphagnum Moss

You may have seen this at the local garden store, sold as a substance to adorn plant pots, terrariums or floral projects. Sphagnum mosses are a smaller group of moss types, often found in and around bogs. 

Spanish Moss

This substance decorates many trees in southern forests. Despite the name, though, it’s not actually a moss! Instead, Spanish moss is another type of plant known as a bromeliad. It is also not from Spain, but is native to the southern United States.

Peat Moss

You will also find this in the garden center. Peet moss is sphagnum moss that has broken down in bogs. Much of the peat moss available for sale comes from peat bogs in Canada.



What’s a “bog”, anyway?

Bogs are natural features in an ecosystem where water is covered by a thick, spongy mat of plant material.

According to the American Educator Encyclopedia (1949), a bog is “a piece of wet, soft and spongy ground, where the soil is composed mainly of decaying and decayed vegetable matter”.

Under the bog’s water, there is very little oxygen available, and fish cannot live there. Plants also have a difficult time living in bogs, but some carnivorous plants are able to survive by eating insects!

More Mossy Facts

There are some other features of moss that make it even more interesting of a find!


Moss can help control moisture in the environment

When it is humid, moss can absorb the moisture from the air around it. When it is drier, moss can also release some moisture back into the air.


Moss can create its own dirt

As it absorbs nutrients and minerals from the environment around it, and with the help of beneficial bacteria growing with it, moss can help break down dust and other particles into dirt.


Moss can help other things grow

There are types of bacteria and fungi that grow with, on and around moss, as they both help each other to thrive and stay healthy.


Most wildlife don’t like to eat moss

It just doesn’t taste good, so a moss garden is one patch of your yard that might not be a target of visiting wildlife. Moss is protected from wildlife and insects by making bitter compounds called “phenols”.

Moss Under the Microscope

  Let’s look more closely at this fuzzy green natural wonder!

Moss – 50x

This is the stem and leaf-like structure of a tiny bit of moss

Moss Cells

When you zoom in closer (40x), you can see the individual cells of the moss

Moss cells

You can also make out tiny tube-like structures, just one cell thick, building the moss