What is moss?

Moss growing on rocks in a stream.

Moss is a very simple type of plant, without conventional roots, stems and leaves. The name refers to any species of the Bryopsida class and is part of the Bryophyta division. Bryophyta means the first green land plants to develop during the evolutionary process. It is thought to have evolved from very primitive vascular plants and did not give rise to any other plant life.


Lacking traditional vascular structures of true leaves, stems and roots, moss growth is limited to moist locations. It is usually very hardy and grows almost everywhere except on the sea floor. The plant usually grows vertically. Except for commercially viable species of the genus Sphagnum, it is generally of little use to humans or animals, although it is sometimes eaten in times of famine.

Moss is sometimes used to fill arid habitats such as dry lakes. It is also used as a backdrop for other plants in gardens or simply to add color where grass refuses to grow.

Moss on the rocks around a waterfall.

Unrelated plants may share the name. This includes moss; flowering moss; carageen, which is a type of seaweed sometimes used in health foods; reindeer moss, which is actually a lichen; and Spanish moss. Spanish moss is generally considered a parasite, as it often grows on other plants such as oaks. It grows in long ribbons and is often seen in the southern states of the United States.

The Japanese have been growing moss for centuries. Valued for its reduced need for watering, its green is considered to add a sense of exuberance and serenity to Japanese gardens.

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Moss growing between the cobblestones.

This plant is often used in rock gardens or with water gardens, ferns or ponds because it needs little maintenance. With drought concerns growing in different parts of America, it has become an increasingly desirable alternative to high maintenance lawns and conventional gardens using shade plants.

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