Moss Varieties and Uses

Learn about moss varieties with Maria Colletti, author of "Terrariums: Gardens Under Glass."

Photo By: Lori Adams/Cool Springs Press

Photo By: Lori Adams/Cool Springs Press

Photo By: Lori Adams/Cool Springs Press

Photo By: Maria Colletti/Cool Springs Press

Photo By: Maria Colletti/Cool Springs Press

Photo By: Lori Adams/Cool Springs Press

Photo By: Lori Adams/Cool Springs Press

Photo By: Lori Adams/Cool Springs Press

Photo By: Lori Adams/Cool Springs Press

Photo By: Lori Adams/Cool Springs Press

Photo By: Lori Adams/Cool Springs Press

Photo By: Maria Colletti/Cool Springs Press

Photo By: Maria Colletti/Cool Springs Press

Terrariums: Gardens Under Glass

In her book, Terrariums: Gardens Under Glass (Cool Springs Press), author Maria Colletti shares ten step-by-step projects that use various mosses and other plants. Colletti, terrarium designer for Shop in the Garden at the New York Botanical Garden, says moss enhances container gardens, but it's magical enough to stand alone.

Varieties of Moss

Look for live or dried moss in many different colors and textures. Shown clockwise, from the top: Spanish moss, chartreuse reindeer moss, sheet moss and yellow-green reindeer moss. 

Dicranum Moss

The common names of moss species often vary. All mosses, Colletti explains, are either Acrocarpous or PleurocarpousAcrocarpous types grow upright, like this Dicranum mood moss, while Pleurocarpous types have a prostrate growth habit, like sheet moss (Hypnum). 

Club Moss (Lycopodium)

Club moss (Lycopodium) is a creeping moss that prefers cool temperatures and low to moderate light. It thrives in rich, moist soil, if given good air circulation. Mosses have many different characteristics; choose from types with fine foliage, soft textures, flat or arching branches, and colors that include green, red, bronze-mahogany, and blue iridescence.

Dried Moss and Selaginella

In this arrangement, Colletti used mounds of dried moss, which don't need water and hold their shape nicely. "(T)hink of (dried moss) as a display prop to showcase" other plants, she says. This terrarium includes a red-veined  Fittonia and a ‘Pink Star’ Cryptanthus. The moss with dark branches is Selaginella 'Ruby Red'.

Mood Moss (Dicranum)

Living mood moss, sometimes called rock cap moss, is a popular terrarium plan in the genus Dicranum. If you have kids, let them add toy dinosaurs to a terrarium planted with mood moss to create a miniature Jurassic Park.

Sheet Moss (Hypnum)

Sheet moss (Hypnum) is often wrapped around the roots of plants to help retain moisture and/or soil, Colletti says. It also adds beauty to container designs. This cloche features a Staghorn fern (Platycerium grande) wrapped Kokedama-style; Kokedama means “moss ball.” 

Spanish Moss for Terrariums

Spanish moss, or Tillandsia, is actually a flowering plant, not a moss--and it's not really Spanish. It's a rootless epiphyte often found in trees. Colletti tears it into pieces before adding it to her terrariums to give them "a looser, more natural appearance.” 

Reindeer Moss (Cladina)

Reindeer moss is a lichen, not a true moss. Colletti says, "(it) does not have fine, hairlike strands like Spanish moss; it moves more freely in one piece." She uses a short stake to arrange it in her terrariums. You can find reindeer moss dyed pink, blue, purple, red and other colors.

Designing with Moss

The John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden in Locust Valley, on Long Island, inspires some of Colletti's moss designs. If you're growing moss in indoor containers, be sure to give it adequate light; sunlight though a window may not be bright enough. Living moss also need adequate water and air circulation. 

Caring for Mosses

Read about the type of moss you're growing, to be sure you choose the right container. Colletti prefers open-topped containers, because closed terrariums may hold too much moisture and poor air circulation. Climacium americanum (commonly called lobe-leaved tree moss) and Hedwigia ciliata (fringed hoar-moss) work well in any kind of container, she says. Leucobryum glaucum (pincushion moss) and Cladonia rangiferina (reindeer moss, actually a lichen) are best for open containers. In this image, sheet moss surrounds other small plants.

Brandy Glass Terrarium

This open-footed brandy glass holds two Dracaena plants: a spiked D. marginata and a lime green, striped D. reflexa. Colletti added Selaginella kraussiana ‘Aurea’ moss, or golden club moss, to the side wall. "The shape of (the container) creates the ideal combination of moisture and air circulation," she adds.

Open Glass Terrarium

Irish moss (Sagina subulata) adds a lush look and fuzzy texture to this open glass container, designed by Colletti. The red center plant, Hypoestes, works as a focal point. Colletti also used baby tears (Helxine soleirolii, in the lower right corner of the container) and a creeping fig (Ficus pumila). Sheet moss is in the upper right corner.