A Merry Mossy Christmas

Wet mossy open heathland with hillocks
Wet, mossy area of Ruislip heathland (Greater London) as visited over Christmas 2017
© Karen Andrews

It is traditional not to leave anyone out at Christmas. If we carry that spirit forward to the plant world, then mosses should certainly not be left out of any Advent botany blog. Mosses thrive in damp, wintery conditions when there is little else about. Plant blindness and ignorance reach fever pitch when it comes to mosses. Mosses are all around us. Grab a hand lens. Examine mosses under a microscope. There’s a fascinating, new world right under your feet.

Moss covered rocks in Scottish woodland
Moss-covered rocks in Ariundle Nature Reserve, Scotland
Photo Credit: Helen Wilkinson (Creative Commons: see copyright mark on photo)

Land’s First Arrivals

Mosses are bryophytes, along with liverworts and hornworts. They are non-flowering, non-vascular plants. Boring? Not a bit of it. They offer a complex, alien-like world that has been on planet Earth for a very long time. Forty-seven billion years ago, the very first land plants resembled mosses. 

Unexpected Beauty of Mosses

Close-up of brightly coloured Yorkshire Moor moss
Bristly Haircap, Polytrichum piliferum as found on Yorkshire Moorland
Photo credit: Vaelta via Wikimedia Creative Commons

Great Names

Quite apart from looking great on closer inspection, mosses and liverworts often have great-sounding common, Latin and order names. Watch out Pokémon! You are about to be trumped… Here are 8 examples in keeping with the Christmassy winter theme:



  • Snow Threadwort, Pleurocladula albescens 
  • Handsome Woollywort, Trichocolea tomentella 
  • Fairy Beads, Microlejeunea ulicina
  • Spruce’s Rustwort, Marsupella sprucei


Dicranales: Goblin Gold, Schistostega pennata

Hypnales: Glittering Wood-moss, Hylocomium splendens


  • False Beard-moss, Didymodon fallax
  • Swan-necked Earth-moss, Microbryum curvicolle


Once you start looking, you will realise that mosses are everywhere: on trees, soil, rock, walls and pavements. Tarmac, brick and concrete does not hold them back. They are not parasites. They do not harm their host.

Under Threat

The United Kingdom has over 1,000 bryophytes. They are of global significance, and yet, their undisturbed habitats are under serious threat.

Gardeners and Mosses

Gardeners do not like mosses and resort to chemicals to get rid of them. A better approach would be to deal with the underlying causes. Poor drainage, water logging and soil compaction are the root of the problem. Given the rapid onset of climate change, it is advisable to welcome the existence of moss in our surroundings.

Japanese Gardens

By contrast with British gardeners, the Japanese like and encourage mosses in their gardens. British gardeners try to conquer Nature, whereas the Japanese try to coexist with it. They appreciate the asymmetrical imperfections as moss gathers over time. 

Moss has been allowed to accumulate over time in Isui-en Garden, Nara, Japan
Photo Credit: FlyingToaster via Wikimedia Creative Commons 

Nature’s Beneficial Sponges

Mosses have an extraordinary ability to soak up water. If you step off the tarmac path in the woodland above Bergen in Norway, a thick moss carpet oozes water. It feels as if you are standing on a large, water-filled sponge. Mosses could play an important role in dealing with climate-related flash flooding in the United Kingdom.

There’s climate trouble ahead. Mosses could prove to be great friends.

Copyright Note

Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

© Karen Andrews 2018 onwards. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Andrews and BotanyKaren.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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