The 10 Most Popular Moss Types (And 1 Lichen) For Gardens

moss garden with different moss types

There are many types of mosses and below we cover the 10 most popular mosses used for for garden designs. Sheet moss and Carpet moss are a popular choice for moss lawns as an alternative to grass. Mood moss and Pincushion moss are mainly used in moss beds, Fern moss is often planted along ponds and Sphagnum Moss is often used for horticultural applications. Bryum moss grows well in sunny gardens while Haircap moss and Hedwigia Moss are appreciated for their distinctive features. The last moss type we will cover is ‘Tree moss’ which (as the name suggests) is often used to cover tree bases. Reindeer moss (not a moss but a lichen) will be discussed in the last sections because it is often used in combination with these 10 different moss varieties.

1. Sheet Moss (Hypnum Curvifolium)

Sheet Moss is the most popular kind of moss and is scientifically known as Hypnum Curvifolium. It is often used for gardens because it creates a lush, green moss lawn that can withstand moderate foot traffic and is a great alternative to traditional grass gardens.

In nature, this moss is commonly found covering forest floors, tree barks, and rocks but can adapt to different substrates and environments.

A garden with sheet moss
A garden with sheet moss

Scientific name: Hypnum Curvifolium

Common names: Sheet moss, Lawn moss, Hypnum Moss, Cypress Leaved Plait Moss, Curveleaf Hypnum Moss, or Feather Moss.

Taxonomic Classification: Hypnum Curvifolium, belongs to the Bryophyte division, within the class Bryopsida, order Hypnales, family Hypnaceae, and genus Hypnum.

Habitat: Sheet moss thrives in a shaded but moist environment. You can find it on forest floors and the bark of trees, covering rocks and logs in humid areas. This moss species prefers well-drained but moist substrates and has adapted to a range of ecosystems from tropical rainforests to temperate woodlands.

Distribution: Sheet Moss can be found all over the globe. It is distributed across North America, Europe, Asia, and even parts of Africa.

Physical Characteristics: This moss species has soft, feathery fronds that form dense, green sheets (hence the name). The small overlapping, curved leaves give it a plush appearance. The color can change from bright green when there is enough moisture and shade, to yellowish-green whenever the conditions are not optimal.

2. Carpet Moss (Hypnum Cupressiforme)

Carpet Moss is of the same genus as Hypnum Curvifolium (it is of the genus Hypnum and therefore it is also called ‘Hypnum moss’ sometimes) and is another popular choice for moss gardens. It grows in thick green carpets and is the second most popular type of moss after sheet moss.

You can find this moss variety in forests where it can cover large areas of soil but it will also cover the rocks or even the barks of trees.

Carpet moss in a forest
Carpet moss in a forest

Scientific Name: Hypnum Cupressiforme

Common Names: Carpet Moss, Cypress-leaved Moss, or Hypnum Moss

Taxonomic Classification: Carpet Moss falls under the Bryophyte division, is of the Bryopsida class, the Hypnales order, the Hypnaceae family, of course of the genus Hypnum.

Habitat: This kind of moss prefers shaded and moist areas and you can find it on the forest floor, and tree bark, but it will also cover logs are rocks. It needs moist but well-drained substrates and has adapted to different ecosystems such as woodlands, rainforests, or even pine forests.

Distribution: Carpet Moss grows all over North America, in most parts of Europe, Asia, and you can even encounter it in Africa.

Physical Characteristics: The soft, feathery fronds knit together to form dense carpets. It has small but slightly curved or cupped leaves that overlap which create a plush surface that is very comfortable to walk on. The moss’s color can be deep green (when the moisture and shade levels are optimal) but it can turn light yellow-greenish or even brown (if it has to go dormant) when the circumstances are not ideal.

3. Mood Moss (Dicranum Scoparium)

Mood Moss, with the scientific name Dicranum Scoparium, is also called Broom Moss or Dicranum Moss and is appreciated by gardeners because of its dense and velvety appearance. It creates soft and lush beds and is used for its visual appeal but not as an alternative to grass lawns.

A beautiful bed with Mood Moss
A beautiful bed with Mood Moss

Scientific Name: Dicranum Scoparium

Common Names: Mood Moss, Broom Moss, or Dicranum Moss

Taxonomic Classification: Mood Moss is classified within the Bryophyte division, under the class Bryopsida, and of the order of Dicranales, it is part of the Dicranaceae family and of the genus Dicranum.

Habitat: This type of moss prefers humid and shaded environments and you’ll find it on the floors of temperate forests. It thrives when the soil conditions are slightly acidic soil and it needs moist but well-drained soils. This kind of moss species can be found in both deciduous and coniferous forests.

Distribution: It has a wide distribution across North America, ranging from the Pacific Northwest to the Appalachian Mountains and all the way throughout Europe, from the British Isles to Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, and you can even find it in Asia (mainly in Japan and Korea).

Physical Characteristics: Dicranum scoparium grows in thick, club-shaped, velvety mats and can sometimes appear feathery. It has lance-shaped leaves that curve upwards and it can spread out over large areas with dense clusters.

4. Pincushion Moss (Leucobryum Glaucum)

Pincushion Moss, is scientifically known as Leucobryum Glaucum, but it can also be called Cushion Moss, Bun Moss, or Pillow Moss. This moss variety has a similar appearance to Mood Moss but is not of the same genus.

This type of moss grows in distinctive cushion-like patterns and is appreciated because of its bright green color and its growth pattern where it grows in rounded clumps that have the appearance of miniature pincushions.

Leucobryum Glaucum, pincushion moss, cushion moss
A clump of PinCushion moss

Scientific Name: Leucobryum Glaucum

Common Names: Pincushion Moss, Cushion Moss, Bun Moss, or Pillow Moss.

Taxonomic Classification: Pincushion Moss is categorized within the Bryophyte division, under the Bryopsida class, within the order Dicranales, is of the Leucobryaceae family, and the genus Leucobryum.

Habitat: Cushion moss is a well adapted type and can be found in many different environments, from humid, shaded forests to more open and (slightly) drier areas. Like most moss species, it prefers acidic soil conditions and you can find it in both deciduous and coniferous forests.

Distribution: This is a type of moss that is widely distributed, and found in North America, Europe, and parts of Asia. It is a dominant species in temperate regions with enough moisture and shade.

Physical Characteristics: Leucobryum glaucum is easy to recognize because of the bright, green, cushion-like clumps that will stand out in gardens and their natural habitat.

This moss plant creates dense, rounded tufts that are super soft to the touch (you should try it!). This feature gives it the common name “Cushion Moss.” It can retain large amounts of water which gives it a slightly glaucous, or frosted, appearance and makes it even more attractive for moss gardeners.

5. Fern Moss (Thuidium Delicatulum)

Fern Moss a common name used for a moss species that is scientifically as Thuidium delicatulum but it has many common names (you can find them below). Whenever you see this moss, you’ll understand why it’s called ‘fern’ moss because it looks like little a little ‘fern forest’.

This moss is found in nature along rivers or stream banks and is often used in gardens along ponds or in areas with a lot of moisture.

Fern moss growing on the forest floor
Fern moss growing on the forest floor

Scientific Name: Thuidium delicatulum

Common Names: Fern Moss, Fern-like Thuidium, Feather Moss, Delicate Thuidium, Delicate Thuidium Moss, Delicate Fern Moss; and Common Fern Moss.

Taxonomic Classification: Fern Moss belongs to the Bryophyte division, of the Bryopsida class, and is classified within the order Hypnales, part of the Thuidiaceae family, and (as its name suggests) of the genus Thuidium.

Habitat: This moss type needs prefers wet and moist but well-drained soils and is commonly found in wooded areas along stream banks but also in shady, damp locations and is often found in areas where ferns thrive as well.

Distribution: Thuidium delicatulum has a broad distribution. You will find it all over North America, Europe, and Asia, and its distribution ranges from the cool, temperate forests of the northern hemisphere to warmer, subtropical regions.

Physical Characteristics: This moss is easy to recognize because of its fern-like fronds. The leaves are finely divided and resemble the fronds of fern plants, which is the obvious reason why the most common name for this moss plant is ‘Fern moss’.

It has a vibrant green color but the shade can depend on specific environmental conditions with moisture and shade as the most important factors. This moss plant is so popular because it adds beauty to moss gardens by mimicking the complexity of fern foliage but on a miniature scale.

6. Sphagnum Moss (Sphagnum Platyphyllum)

Sphagnum Moss is the common name ‘Sphagnum Platyphyllum’, but this type of moss is also called Spongy moss, flat-leaved bog moss, or some people even call ‘peat moss’. This is incorrect because the ‘peat moss’ is the dead organic matter that is created by Sphagnum moss.

This type of moss plant creates peat bogs and is very well adapted to retain water. It forms dense mats that can help up to 20 times its dry weight and is often used for horticultural applications.

A bog with Sphagnum Moss
A bog with Sphagnum Moss

Scientific Name: Sphagnum Platyphyllum

Common Names: Sphagnum Moss, Flat-leaved Peat Moss, Broad-leaved Sphagnum, Carpet Sphagnum, Bog Moss, Water-holding Moss, Swamp Sphagnum, and (incorrectly) peat moss.

Taxonomic Classification: Sphagnum Platyphyllum is classified within the Bryophyte division and under the class Sphagnopsida. It falls within the order Sphagnales and it does belong to the Sphagnaceae family as a member of the genus Sphagnum.

Habitat: Sphagnum Moss thrives in wet and boggy ecosystems where it creates extensive carpets over the waterlogged ground as you can see in the picture above. This plant prefers acidic environments and is responsible for creating peat bogs. You can find it in marshes, and wetlands across various climates.

Distribution: It is widely distributed around the globe because you can find it in the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere in most regions of parts of North America, Europe, and Asia.

Physical Characteristics: Sphagnum platyphyllum has broad and flat leaves which make it a bit different form other Sphagnum species. This moss plant has a soft texture and the color can change from bright green to yellowish-green but that depends on the environment.

7. Bryum Moss (Bryum Caespiticium)

Bryum moss has the scientific name Bryum Caespiticium and is getting more and more popular because this is a type of moss that can deal with substantial amounts of sunlight and is therefore sometimes called ‘Sun Moss’ as well. It is a small plant with a compact growth habit and it creates dense mats that cover rocks and tree bases but are also used in gardens between pavers or as an alternative to a grass lawn.

bryum moss
Bryum moss in a sunny moss garden

Scientific Name: Bryum caespiticium

Common Names: Bryum Moss, Sun Moss, Tufted Thread-moss, Dry Calcareous Bryum Moss, Silver Green Bryum Moss, or Tufted Thread Moss.

Taxonomic Classification: This moss plant has been classified within the Bryophyte division and is of the class Bryopsida. It falls under the order Bryales, and belongs to the Bryaceae family, and as the name suggests, it is a member of the genus Bryum.

Habitat: Bryum Moss is versatile, and able to thrive in a wide range of environments from urban settings to wild forests. It prefers well-drained, yet moist substrates and can often be found in both shaded and partially sunny locations. This adaptability makes it a common sight in gardens, on walls, and in various urban and natural landscapes.

Distribution: Bryum Caespiticium has a global presence and can be found in various regions around the globe and you may encounter it in Asia, North America, and Europe.

Physical Characteristics: This is a moss type that has small but dense green tufts that can form extensive mats across the floor but it can also grow over other substrates. This Sun Moss is soft to touch when healthy, and the leaves are typically bright green when there is enough moisture but they can turn to a brownish-green as they get older.

8. Haircap Moss (Polytrichum Commune)

Haircap Moss is known by the scientific name Polytrichum commune but can also be called Common Haircap Moss, Great Goldilocks, Common Hair Moss, or Hair moss. This is a kind of moss that grows up and looks a bit like a miniature forest which makes it a popular choice for moss gardeners and artists.

Mat of Haircap moss
A little ‘forest’ of Haircap moss

Scientific Name: Polytrichum Commune

Common Names: Haircap Moss, Hair Moss, Great Goldilocks, Common Haircap Moss, or Common Hair Moss.

Taxonomic Classification: Haircap Moss falls within the Bryophyte division (as all mosses do), it is of the class Polytrichopsida, under the order Polytrichales and within the Polytrichaceae family, and is a member of the genus Polytrichum.

Habitat: This moss can thrive in different habitats and can be found in shaded forests, bogs, and heathlands but also in urban areas and even on the arctic tundras. It has been adapted to acidic and neutral soils and you can find it in areas with moist but consistent moisture.

Distribution: The distribution of Haircap Moss covers regions across North America, Europe, Asia, and even parts of Africa.

Physical Characteristics: Polytrichum Commune has robust, erect stems that grow several centimeters up and are topped with spore capsules. The leaves of this moss plant are stiff and pointed have often a glossy appearance and are arranged spirally around the stem giving it a ‘haircap’ look.

9. Hedwigia Moss (Hedwigia Ciliata)

Hedwigia Moss is a popular common name for a moss plant that is scientifically known as Hedwigia ciliata. Other names for this kind of moss are white-tipped moss or Medusa moss. This moss species was discovered by Johann Hedwig and is appreciated by gardeners for its white or light-colored tips against a backdrop of dark green which gives it a frosted look.

Hedwigia Ciliata, Medusa Moss , White-Tipped Moss
Hedwigia Moss growing on a rock

Scientific Name: Hedwigia Ciliata

Common Names: White-Tipped Moss, Hedwigia Moss, Medusa Moss, Hedwigia Ciliate Moss, Rock Hair Moss, and Fringed Hoar-moss

Taxonomic Classification: This moss plant belongs to the Bryophyte division and of the class Bryopsida. It is classified under the order Hedwigiales as part of the Hedwigiaceae family and classified in the genus Hedwigia.

Habitat: Hedwigia ciliata can adapt to different substrates but is dominantly found on rock surfaces, tree trunks, and walls in urban areas. This is a type of moss that prefers well-drained but slightly acidic to neutral substrates and you can find it in montane, subalpine, and alpine regions but also in less extreme environments like woodlands and urban areas (as mentioned before).

Distribution: The distribution is broad and spans all across North America, from Europe into Asia, and extending to parts of Africa.

Physical Characteristics: It is easy to identify Hedwigia ciliata because of the distinctive white or light-colored tips of its leaves which stand out against the darker green of the rest of the plant and the leaves of this plant are a bit stiff and somewhat curved.

10. Tree Moss (Anomodon Attenuatus)

Tree Moss is by science described as Anomodon Attenuatus but is also known as Tree Apron Moss, Tree Skirt Moss, Poodle Moss, or Anomodon Moss. The name suggests that it grows on trees and elegantly drapes over the trunks.

Tree moss growing on the base of a tree
Tree moss growing on the base of a tree

Scientific Name: Anomodon Attenuatus

Common Names: Tree Moss, Tree Apron Moss, Tree Skirt Moss, Poodle Moss, or Anomodon Moss

Taxonomic Classification: This moss plant is classified within the Bryophyte division. It is part of the Bryopsida class and of the order Hypnales. It belongs to the Anomodontaceae family and is of the genus Anomodon.

Habitat: Tree Moss grows on the bark and base of trees (as the name suggests) where it can form extensive mats. But you may also find it on rocks and soil if these habitats offer a stable level of moisture.

Distribution: This is a type of moss that has been able to cover the temperate regions of North America, Europe, and also parts of Asia.

Physical Characteristics: You can recognize Tree Moss by its long, slender branches that cascade down tree trunks and branches which creates an apron-like effect. The leaves of this moss are small and are often curved or twisted which gives it a plush appearance. The green-to-yellow-green coloration of the leaves depends on the environmental conditions.

11. Reindeer Moss (Cladonia Rangiferina)

Reindeer moss is actually not a moss but a lichen but because it is so popular in gardens, and often used in combination with moss, we wanted to add this one as a bonus.

The scientific name of this lichen is Cladonia Rangiferina and is an important food source for reindeer on the tundra. But because of its distinctive look, it has become a more and more popular choice for moss enthusiasts and artists alike.

Reindeer moss close up
A close-up of Reindeer Moss

Scientific Name: Cladonia rangiferina

Common Names: Reindeer Moss, Caribou Moss, Deer Moss; Reindeer Lichen, Greygreen Reindeer Lichen, Reindeer Lichen; and Caribou Lichen.

Taxonomic Classification: Reindeer Moss is part of the Lecanoromycetes class, within the order Lecanorales, of the family Cladoniaceae, and of the genus Cladonia.

Habitat: This lichen prefers an open and well-lit environment such as pine and spruce forests, tundra, or heathlands. It grows on the ground and forms dense carpets that can cover large areas where reindeer graze. It has been very well adapted to survive in poor soil conditions because of its symbiotic relationship which enables it to get nutrients from the rain and air.

Distribution: Reindeer Moss has a circumpolar distribution but is predominantly found in the Arctic, boreal forests of the Northern Hemisphere, and mountainous regions of higher altitudes across our planet.

Physical Characteristics: You can recognize this lichen by its pale, greyish-green color (but it can also be white) and it has a highly branched, fruticose (shrub-like) structure. The branches are delicate and remind many of coral which makes it able to absorb significant amounts of water so it can survive in dry conditions. It can become up to 10 cm in height and grows into extensive mats that cover large areas of forest floors or the tundra.

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