Tiny Shag Carpet Plants

One moss plant is typically a tiny entity: a small stem covered with leaves just a few millimeters long. Together they make up green fuzzy carpets.

Moss plants are difficult to identify, except when they ambitiously prepare to send offspring moss via spores out into the breeze. The moss plants grow stalks on top of which precariously sit capsules ready to release the spores. Each moss species, though much alike in terms of stems and leaves, tends to have different types of capsules.

Once released, the offspring moss float on the wind with very few provisions; the spores need to be light and do not carry much food. Landing quickly is the key to success. Here is a great page about moss life.

Update! Rare Nowell's moss plants, found on limestone walls in Yorkshire, England, have made headlines on CNN by producing spores after 130 years of sporeless existence. Apparently, the plants had been hampered, because they had been living in single sex communities on different parts of each wall. A lucky breeze or current of water brought male and female plants into contact, and spores have fruited. This development is especially encouraging, because as the limestone walls have crumbled, the moss's habitat has come under threat.

The Quest: Mystery Moss: Update

I live in Northern California which goes for months without rain. I always enjoy the rainy season, because, then, like magic, moss carpets appear everywhere. Last February I found some moss in our front yard and photographed it. I have invited website visitors to submit identifications of the plant. Website visitor Alison has provided the following information: "It looks like Tortula muralis, a common moss with oval tipped fine leaves that end in a point. Usually find on old walls or rocks. As I understand it, moss can dry out and come back to life when water is available again, but needs water to reproduce." Thanks, Alison, for your help.

Over the next month, I hope to investigate the following questions:

Is moss always found in moist places? If not, what kind of moss exists in dry places?
What habitat has the most species of moss?
How is it possible to identify moss species?

Please send me an email with any thoughts on the identification of any of the mosses on this page or any great pieces of moss trivia or information. Thank you so much for any help you can provide.


Moss is the symbol of damp, old places on north-facing slopes or the shade of old gnarled trees. Moss coats an ordinary place, like a small area of mud or the crack between a sidewalk, with something unusual and miraculous. How can spores find these small, habitable places? Moss tells me that rain has arrived!

I will be looking for references to moss in poems and literature and adding to the symbolism of moss on this page throughout the month.

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