Make your own mossarium!

By Jessamyn West

mossarium, doing nicely

Moss is awesome! And simple to keep alive even if you travel. Moss had its heyday back at the turn of the last century when both the US and the UK had their own bryological societies and people built mosseries into their homes where they could enjoy the greenery year round. It's simple to build a mini-mossery, or mossarium, in your own home.

You need

- a jar with a lid, this is a great use for stinky former-candle jars that you can't put food in
- rocks/pebbles
- water with activated charcoal [you can get an aquarium filter cartridge and split it apart and save the charcoal, add a few grains to your water]
- Spanish moss for drainage [available at craft or garden shops]
- MOSS [with some dirt on the bottom of it] - frippery, to taste

moss1.jpg

Assembly is straightforward. Put rocks in the bottom of your jar. Pour in small amount of charcoal water. Put Spanish moss on top of it. Add moss. Add frippery such as birch bark, flowers, twigs, pinecones, ceramic frogs. Put the lid on. Put it somewhere out of direct sunlight. Add a tablespoon of water every few months if it looks like it's getting dry.

moss2.jpg

More mosstalk at lifehacker and this steampunk forum thread. For help with moss identifcation, read The British moss-flora (1905) or The moss flora of New York City and vicinity. (1911) You might also enjoy this moss poem from 1860.

moss, still awesome
Not enough moss near you? You can buy a moss kit on Etsy, or maybe just some other attractive moss options [my fave is here]

Published 8:17 am Tue, Jan 26, 2010

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About the Author

I run librarian.net and metafilter.com. I am a techie librarian who lives in Vermont and travels the world.

34 Responses to “Make your own mossarium!”

  1. Leonieke says:

    Great tips – reminded me of last week’s Martha Stewart Show!
    http://www.marthastewart.com/article/fairyland-terrarium

    Though she added fairies ;-)

  2. Chrs says:

    That top type of moss is the most consistently surviving that I’ve tried. If you’re somewhere wet, a good rule of thumb is that if it grows well on a lawn, it will do well in your jar.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Another interesting to try along these lines is growing slime molds.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I like “mossoleum”

  5. Day Vexx says:

    What does the charcoal do?

  6. Xeno says:

    We have a mossarium in Seattle. It’s CALLED Seattle. Enjoy!

  7. Jessamyn West says:

    Charcoal keeps molds from growing in the damp parts that are not moss or other growing stuff. Sorry, should have mentioned that.

  8. arkizzle / Moderator says:

    frippery, to taste

    Perfect :)

  9. Anonymous says:

    Was it just my part of the US that was loopy, or did anyone else’s mom make one of these in the early 70s?

    Seems like there were glass-jar mossariums EVERYWHERE for a few years.

  10. flyingnowhere says:

    Made one last night. Fun stuff. http://twitter.com/flyingnowhere/statuses/8238034539

  11. Pendrift says:

    Can you use the stuff from Brita filters for the activated charcoal?

  12. Jessamyn West says:

    Yep, pretty sure it’s the same stuff. Obviously use it before you’ve used the filter, not after.

  13. Tony Moore says:

    my wife made one kinda like this about a year ago when we first moved into our new place, out of rocks and some moss growing on a nearby well shaft. since then she’s opened it maybe twice and it looks as alive as it did the day she put it together!

  14. franko says:

    i think i’ll move on from the mossarium trend and be early in on the moldarium trend.

  15. Ito Kagehisa says:

    I weeded out all the grass from my north yard and it is now just a big sheet of various kinds of moss. Really pretty, never needs mowing, and it doesn’t die if you don’t get around to raking the fall leaves off it for a couple months.

  16. Anonymous says:

    An excellent field guide for Pacific Northwest mosses is:

    Schoffield, W.B. 1992. Some Common Mosses of British Columbia 2nd ed. Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, British Columbia

    Be aware that mosses are not like other plants and not all mosses have the same requirements. Some are very finicky regarding soil chemistry and water while some of the common varieties count as weeds.

    Avoid commercial fertilizers – mosses are very sensitive to some of the micronutrients! It WILL kill them! Airborn debris and an occasional pinch of fresh soil will be plenty.

    A final word is to be moderate with your water. While many mosses are dependent on wet conditions, the glass enclosure may maintain a higher than tolerable humidity and result in algae/fungi/bacteria out-competing and smothering your moss.

    I’ve maintained moss and lichen micro-gardens on and off for about 10 years. The easiest and most satisfying moss garden design for me was to simply transplant a patch of moss from the dark recesses of the yard into a wooden basin and leave it on the back porch. Trim when it needed and water if it gets too dry.

    Have fun and enjoy!

    Robert-

    p.s. I’m not an expert, merely a casual hobbyist (with some botany experience) but I am open to questions/comments.
    You’re welcome to contact me at:
    rkr at pdx dot edu

  17. mellowknees says:

    btw, you can get small bags of activated charcoal from most garden supply and “one stop” type stores (like Fred Meyer here in the beautiful and moss-laden Pacific NW). I recently bought some to use in making a terrarium, but now I think I’m going to make a mossarium instead! This is really cool!

  18. Cicada says:

    For some reason, one of those sounds incredibly relaxing to have around. Like a fishtank, but…greener…

  19. Anonymous says:

    I just love making moss terrariums and here in B.C. (much like Seattle) there are about a bazillion different types of the stuff. My terrariums are more like dioramas though as I make my own frippery….I used to do set and costume design for theatre so get a kick out of making “alien pastoral scenes”.

    • thyrza says:

      I guess I didn’t sign in when I made that last comment so no one would be able to see my extensive gallery of mossariums and terrariums etc. from my profile page-

  20. Anonymous says:

    can i use regular charcoal? the ones i use for grilling.

    • Anonymous says:

      Avoid regular (bbq) charcoal. Activated charcoal is special/purified/stabilized. It acts as a chemical sponge that absorbs organic compounds (they make you drink it in the ER in the case of poisoning/pill OD). BBQ charcoal is burned wood with all of the impurities still there and will raise the pH of your terrarium (i.e. it will make the water really alkaline, like bleach or soap).

      Robert-

  21. Day Vexx says:

    I had a fun time making a very small one yesterday afternoon! I took a walk and found some various mosses, which came up nicely with the aid of a butter knife. I also found some dried pine needles, which I used in place of the dried moss bedding. Nice white gravel from the driveway worked out well for the rocky layer, and I located a faceted jam jar to contain everything.

    Along the way, I found a field of wild grasses I had not previously known about, and walked through my town’s private golf course for the first time. I have more moss to work with, so I’m going to be scouting for a larger and more interesting jar in the next few days.

    Thanks for this idea, it was fun!

  22. Anonymous says:

    I’ve made moss terrariums in the past, and there’s definitely one thing to keep in mind – try not to dig up moss from swampy areas. No amount of charcoal will cut that swamp-stink in your jar (which is mighty horrible when you need to refresh it).

  23. GatoRanch says:

    Great info and photos! I’ve made terrariums and mossarium years back. Really great for the Winter to bring a little life to your house.

    And holy crap, I have that same vintage Kennedy pencil sharpener as in photo three! I’ve never seen anyone else with one.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Why does it need the lid on it?

    • Anonymous says:

      The lid keeps it from drying out. You might need to lift the lid a little, though, if you get constant condensation on the inside of the glass (too much moisture is bad, too). Then pop the lid back on.

    • stegodon says:

      to maintain moisture

  25. Anonymous says:

    Do you keep the lid on your jar? how does the moss breathe? And is it sanitary (I don’t want to plead with my mom to keep it indoors)?

    • rkr says:

      You don’t need to leave the lid on and, in fact, the moss would benefit from an occasional breath of fresh air. Moss (like other plants) take sunlight and turn it into their food (photosynthesis). That reaction uses carbon dioxide and produces oxygen as a byproduct. However to actually eat the food, they use oxygen and produce carbon dioxide (just like animals – we breath out carbon dioxide, a metabolic waste product). Since no reaction is 100% efficient, the products don’t quite balance out and there’s like other stuff also living in that little habitat (like fungus and bacteria) oxygen gets used up more than carbon dioxide. An occasional airing replenishes the low levels.

      Hope this helps.

      Robert-

  26. Cruxx says:

    If you really like the moss theme, check out the doom metal band Moss: http://www.myspace.com/cthonicrites

    They move at about the speed that moss grows.