There are countless varieties of moss in the world, with well over 10,000 at this point that have been classified. And while moss is commonly associated with trees, you might be surprised to learn that not all types of moss grow on trees at all. And in fact, some types of plant and fungi life only look like moss but are completely distinct biologically.
Knowing what kinds of actual mosses grow on trees in your area can give you an advantage in a survival situation…
Moss can be used as a component in crafting, as a fire starter and some species are even edible. Keep reading and I’ll tell you about 11 types of moss that grow on trees.
Tree Moss (Order Bryales)
Of course, tree moss grows on trees! But tree moss is something of a misnomer for our list here, because it actually consists of an order that contains many different distinct species.
Nonetheless, all of these species have broad similarities: young tree moss is a pale, lime green color and turns into a rich pine- or emerald green when it’s fully grown, with each stem measuring anywhere from 2 to 4 inches in length.
Found all across the North American continent and most of Europe, it likewise grows on a huge variety of trees. Aside from the coloration, look for a plush, wooly texture, and brick-red stems to help you identify it.
Fire Moss (Ceratodon purpureus)
Fire moss is one of the most interesting and spectacularly colored examples on our list: not only does it have a bright red stalk which can give it a fiery color from the right angle, but it is usually found growing most readily in the aftermath of wildfires.
This moss seems to seek out burnt wood in order to grow!
Wherever it does take root, it grows quite low, rarely exceeding half an inch, but it grows with remarkable density, forming a springy mat on the surface.
Knight’s Plume Moss (Ptilium crista-castrensis)
Reaching up to a majestic (for moss) five inches tall, Knight’s Plume moss is named because it resembles the decorative plume atop a medieval knight’s helmet. For this reason, it is also sometimes referred to as feather moss thanks to its delicate, frond-like appearance.
Although it’s typically a creeping ground covering loss, it will sometimes grow a little bit up the trunks of trees in favorable conditions.
Notably, this moss is more resistant to sunlight than most on our lists, and can commonly be found growing where the canopy is thin or at the edge of woods.
Sheet Moss (Hypnum curvifolium)
Sheet moss, like so many others on our list, can be found almost anywhere there is shade and moisture. It is highly variable in length; some stay quite close to the ground while others can grow several inches long.
Another primary characteristic is that it grows in a uniformly thick, continuous sheet, hence the name. It is easily recognized by its overall appearance, usually described as carpet-like.
Typically considered a ground moss, Sheet moss can be found growing on all kinds of dead wood, whether or not it is standing or fallen. If you can positively identify it and see it growing on a standing tree, it’s highly likely to be dead or very nearly so.
Compared to most other mosses, this one’s extremely vulnerable to intense sunlight so don’t expect to find it anywhere there is not ample shade.
Feather Moss (Kindbergia praelonga)
Feather moss is another variety comprised of many different species, but one in particular is quite common and can itself be found all around the globe.
The leaves of this moss are thin, triangular and frond-like, making it look very much like a tiny fern as it creeps across damp, shady spots on the forest floor.
Although it’s technically not a moss commonly encountered on trees, you’ll nonetheless find it growing readily along exposed roots and parts of the trunk near the ground.
The maximum length of the stems is only about an inch, even when fully mature, so keep your eyes peeled; it can easily be missed under other plants.
Shaggy Moss (Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus)
Shaggy moss is, just like the name says, rough and shaggy-looking thanks to its long, kinked, screw-like stems which can reach up to seven inches in length. A medium to light green color, like many mosses, it does best in a damp environment and will die if it dries out.
So long as these conditions are met, you can find it growing right up the trunk of a tree, on fallen deadwood, or even across the ground.
Mood Moss (Dicranum scoparium)
No, it’s not some ill-conceived name for a mood-altering herbal product. Mood moss gets its name because it changes color like a mood ring: it is much darker green in the shade, and it lightens steadily over time with exposure to direct sunlight.
This moss grows indigenously only in the Cascadia region of the Pacific Northwest in the US.
Although it looks like it might be taking over a particular trunk where it is found growing, it actually doesn’t hurt the tree. Instead, it is helpful because it can help the bark retain moisture- especially during dry spells…
Although it typically grows between medium height of between 3 and 4 inches, it can grow to more than a foot long in ideal conditions!
Dwarf Haircap Moss (Pogonatum aloides)
Certainly one of the most intriguing moss varieties on our list, Dwarf Haircap looks basically like a miniature aloe plant, with (proportionately) thick, radiating, triangular leaves set about a central rosette.
Interestingly, it prefers sandy soil or rotting wood and not much in between, so if you don’t find it on the ground in favorable soil conditions look around on any fallen logs and substantial branches for it.
Bear in mind that this is a deep shade-craving moss, and it will quickly die when exposed to direct sunlight. Don’t expect to find it anywhere but the shadiest places.
Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides)
Spanish moss is famous, or I should say infamous for some of us, for growing in those creepy, extremely long, drooping, ghostly pale strands.
A fixture across much of the American South, particularly the Deep South, this moss will not harm the trees it is growing on and is easily identified by its appearance: aside from the growth pattern, it has a somewhat scaly exterior if you look at it up close.
Spanish moss can be used as a fire starter when dried out and is sometimes used in chinking when filling in the gaps between timbers of buildings and other structures, a task that it excels at thanks to its cottony texture.
Seductive Moss (Entodon seductrix)
The alluringly named Seductive moss is another versatile variety that can grow in different environments whether or not it is found on trees.
You’re just as likely to find it across the entirety of a shady tree trunk, across branches, on the ground, or even on exposed stone and rocks.
This moss gets its name because of its uniquely shiny texture and overall beauty, meaning it is often cultivated for gardens and terrariums.
Seductive moss does need shade and moisture, but it is extremely resistant to cold, meaning that this species can be found on trees in most latitudes.
Common Tamarisk Moss (Thuidium tamariscinum)
The delicate, lace-like fronds of Common Tamarisk are often compared to carat leaves or Queen Anne’s Lace, though it is not related to either of those plants.
The foliage color is a bright, light yellow-green and it is also noted for the extremely dark, mahogany-colored stems.
Most commonly encountered in clumps and patches on the ground, this is yet another moss type that will still readily grow on dead or dying wood. Typically, this is in the form of a fallen log or large branch, but you’ll sometimes see it on standing deadwood or dying trees.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.