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

in their own plant division as Bryophyta (bryophytes) in the Plant Kingdom.




Considered 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 18,000 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.

17 Responses to “What is MOSS?”

  1. 1

    Hi, What does Bartramia Sporophytes mean?

  2. 2

    Hey Jeri,
    You are quite observant… a skill which comes in handy when identifying moss types. The photograph that illustrates a MOSS TYPE is Bartramia pomiformis (Apple Moss) while in sporophytic stage. Sporophytes occur during the 2nd stage of reproduction. After fertilization occurs in the gametophytic stage (1st), then sporophytes develop. The spores mature in capsules and then spread via the wind to make new plants.

    Sporophytes can be distinctively different from one bryophyte type to another. The shape of the capsule, the height of the seta (stem-like structure), and the color of the sporophyte can vary dramatically in bryophyte families. The “little green apple” capsules of Bartramia are evident in this photo which gives it a common name – “Apple Moss.” Sporophytes can be a valuable botanical characteristic in the identification of mosses.

    Go Green With Moss!
    Mossin’ Annie

  3. 3

    Thanks for the info. It’s seriously helpful.

    Moss Rox,

  4. 4

    Hi there, just wanted to mention, I enjoyed this post. It was inspiring. Keep on posting!

  5. 5

    Hi — very interesting information and an extremely valuable image; I’m a painter and have been attempting to depict exactly this sort of moss in a painting — quite a struggle, but this is just what I need. Thank you! Plus now I know more about this fascinating life form….

  6. 6

    is a moss a grass, a shrub or an herb?

  7. 7

    Terrific job………..

  8. 8


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  10. 10

    how do mosses resemble higher plants?

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