Where did all this moss come from?

I just noticed that all of a sudden we have moss growing in places where there seemingly wasn’t any just a few weeks ago. It’s been gray and damp, so conditions are certainly amenable. But where did all this moss come from?

Moss on the trunk of our chaste tree
(Vitex agnus-castus)

Mosses are among the oldest plants on earth, going back 400-500 million years. Not surprisingly, their structure is very simple. They don’t have roots and instead use what are known as “rhizoids”, thin hair-like filaments, to attach themselves to rough surfaces. These rhizoids don’t take up water or nutrients so the plant extracts everything it needs from the air and water.

Moss on our concrete patio 

Mosses don’t flower and hence don’t produce seeds; instead they reproduce by spores, like many other “prehistoric” plants.

Moss in cracks between concrete slabs 

Moss can live in a dehydrated state for a long period of time. Within hours of receiving water, they rehydrate and resume photosynthesis—and once again assume their customary color. This is typically green but can also be brown, red or even white.

Moss grows best in moist and dark areas, which is why you’re more likely to find it in your shade garden or overwatered lawn than in a sun-drenched perennial bed.

Moss on a pumice boulder. Pumice is very rough and porous so moss has an easy time attaching itself to this type of rock. 

In climates that get rain year round, moss is common. Many gardeners even consider it a nuisance, especially when it begins to grow in thick mats where it’s not wanted, like on roofs.

Close-up of moss patch

However, in our Mediterranean climate, moss is a harbinger of the rainy season and as such, we don’t get to enjoy it all that long. For me, the unexpected pop of color I keep finding in random places around the yard is a welcome sight.

So to answer my original question: Where did all this moss come from? It didn’t come from anywhere, it was always here.

Lots of moss on rock; Yosemite National Park, California


  1. I love moss! In my yard some of it looks its best during mid-to-late winter, which is surprising. It then hangs around until the summer heat dries it up. A moss garden is not practical here in St. Louis, as it doesn't seem to be for you either.
    That one photo "moss on rock" looks more like lichen, but you probably have different moss species than we do. Any chance of borrowing those macro lenses again and giving us some close-ups? :-)

  2. Thanks for keeping me on my toes--yes, that was lichen. Duh!

    I love moss gardens too but it way too hot and dry here 9 months of the year. San Francisco, Portland and Seattle are more likely candidates. In fact, the Portland Japanese Garden has tons of moss.

    I still have my friend's macro lenses. I just need a day with more light (very dark and gloomy here today), otherwise shutter speeds are too long and camera shake is almost guaranteed, even with a tripod.

  3. I plan on doing a "lichen" post sometime this winter when I'm low on content, as it's so overlooked but often so beautiful.

  4. Oh, have you heard about "moss graffiti"? You make one of those moss "milkshakes" then paint a design somewhere appropriate. http://www.google.com/images?q=moss+graffiti

  5. Alan, I saw stunning lichen in Tasmania in January. Here's just one photo: http://ozbock.blogspot.com/2010/01/wednesday-1610-cradle-mountain-national.html.

    I hadn't heard of moss milkshakes but I was a bit surprised to see how many web sites and books there are dedicated to moss gardening!

  6. I love moss in the garden! I've never understood products created to rid a yard of moss (I think the manufacturers just want you to think it is a bad thing so they'll make more money). The striped pattern on that chaste tree is neat!

  7. Eliza, I agree with you completely! Why get rid of something that's natural, beautiful and 99.9% of the time NOT a problem? I wish we had MORE moss. That's why I was excited to see even a little bit of it popping up in our yard :-).


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