Living in the PNW, there is definitely an abundance of moss here. I live in Central Oregon, which is known for being a high desert climate surrounded by forests and mountains. Since it is typically drier here than other parts of Oregon, there is less moss here, however, you can still find some on hikes through the forest, while skiing Mt. Bachelor, or by the many waterfalls here. The western part of Oregon is where moss and lichen thrive and while on any forest walk or waterfall hike you will be surrounded by moss climbing on trees, hanging off branches, on the ground, and encasing rocks. I love driving to this part of Oregon and seeing the ecosystem completely change from high desert to rainforests.
But first, let's backtrack a little and talk about what moss is. Moss, which is in its own plant division called Bryophyta, are species of small non-vascular, non-flowering, spore-bearing plants that are clumped together to form green ‘mats.’ There are more than 20,000 types of mosses found all over the world in all types of climates such as rainforests, deserts, and even the arctic, however, they are not found in saltwater ecosystems. Moss is commonly found in moist and shady locations, and typically ‘carpets’ the floors of forests and woodlands. Moss is not just one plant, but rather, are colonies of multiple miniature plants, and the individual plant is usually composed of leaves that are about one cell thick and attached to a stem that is either branched or unbranched. Bryophytes are some of the oldest plants and even date back 450 million years while adapting over the years to extreme climate changes. Mosses differ in form and structure, and they reproduce by regeneration from small pieces of leaves or stems, by branching and fragmentation, and by producing spores. In certain conditions, spores will germinate and grow into a branching green thread of moss. Many small plants are mistaken for moss, such as lichens, hornworts, liverworts, and alga, and Spanish moss is actually an air plant.
Moss is beneficial to the environment in many different ways including helping to aid in erosion control by providing coverage on the surface and absorbing water, providing nutrients and water for other types of vegetation, and helping to create shade in ecosystems. Moss has been used in many different ways for years since it is a unique plant, and traditionally has been used for insulation in both housing and clothing, and for culinary and medicinal purposes. Moss is also a major part of Japanese Gardens, as lawn often in the PNW, and for plant installations such as green walls and green roofs. Moss on green walls and green roofs require little maintenance, are drought tolerant, and only use small amounts of planting medium since moss doesn’t have roots. Moss can also be used in aquascaping since it is hardy and helps to maintain a suitable water chemistry for fish. This plant is clearly very versatile and continues to provide benefits for both the environment and people!