Anyone who knows my work knows I’m no stranger to a good piece of moss. Within the terrarium niche, moss is very much at the heart of nearly every design
The lushness of moss, its vibrancy, and its ability to deliver an organic quality to any design make it an infinitely popular medium.
But live moss can come with problems.
It can decay if improperly cared for, it is often difficult to maintain if exposed to open air and can be hard to get a hold of.
Enter preserved moss; a chemically stabilised version of live moss that allows one to capture the bounties of bryophytes without the risks.
In this article, I’ll be diving deeper to help you understand preserved moss, how to use it creatively and some insider tips on how to get the most from your designs.
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What is Preserved Moss?
So, what does it mean for something to be chemically preserved? Is preserved moss alive?
The short answer is no, but it is designed to look like it is.
Preserved moss was once alive but has had its water content removed in place of glycerol, or another chemical agent (you can read how to preserve moss here).
Glycerol is a non-toxic, polyol compound that maintains the plushness and texture of the moss.
A natural dye, often food-grade, is then applied to the moss to give it the desired colour, most often a natural green to emulate that which one might find in the wild.
The moss, therefore, retains this state indefinitely, never growing nor decaying.
Is Preserved Moss the Same as Dried Moss?
It is not.
Dried moss usually refers to a live moss that has been air-dried to remove its moisture content.
This moss is considered ‘dormant’, one which could be revived if hydrated, but one that would eventually die if forgotten about completely.
Dried moss is also a popular option for decorative purposes but doesn’t have the same texture or liveliness as that of its preserved cousin.
Types of Preserved Moss
Although I can’t see any reason why a type of moss couldn’t be preserved, there are typically three types more commonly found than any other.
Each has a significantly different appearance, and when combined create a natural atmosphere in which different colours and shapes weave throughout one another.
It’s worth noting, quickly, that preserved mosses are more typically referred to by common names, rather than Latin ones.
Let’s look at the most common types of preserved moss.
1 | Reindeer Moss
Reindeer moss is by far one of the most abundant preserved mosses available on the market.
However, it is NOT moss.
DUN, DUN DUUUUUUUUUUUN.
Alright, it’s not that dramatic.
But, yes, what is commonly referred to as reindeer moss is a type of lichen, native to the arctic landscapes of Iceland and Norway, among others.
Known scientifically as Cladonia rangiferina, the ample natural supply of reindeer moss makes it one of the most widely available options on the market.
2 | Cushion Moss
Slightly less copious, but certainly more sought after, cushion moss is another of the big three preserved mosses.
Also known as bun(n) moss, pillow moss and pole moss, the preserved cushion mosses look as they sound; fluffy, round, and bouncy.
There’s a natural depth to their tuftiness that can transform a flat design into one that plays more with light and shadow, giving the illusion of a deeper world.
It is in many ways the quintessential moss, the image of which one that I imagine most layman would conjure in their minds if a moss-based subject was brought up.
Not that moss-based subjects are brought up often, or go down well. (I’m great fun at parties).
3 | Sheet Moss
Sheet moss, forest moss, flat moss, carpet moss.
These are all names that denote a particular version of preserved moss – one that can cover a large area with ease.
Whereas I often use cushion moss to create texture, and reindeer moss as a highlight and to fill gaps, sheet moss is often the backbone that allows your other elements to flourish.
Generally, these preserved mosses are widely available at a good price and quite versatile in their application.
Although they’re not quite as striking as cushion moss, they still look natural.
When compacted, sheet moss operates as, well, a sheet.
Though, individual strands can be extracted and used to make a 3D effect in whichever creative application you’re embarking upon.
Should I Use Preserved Moss?
In the right situation, yes!
Preserved moss is ideal when you know you’re work will be exposed to the open air and won’t have the humidity levels to sustain live moss, for example, framed moss art.
You might use it, alternatively, to create a truly zero-maintenance mossarium that is a perpetually stunning amendment to your mantlepiece or work-top, without the hassle.
It’s often the perfect choice for the black-thumbed among us that struggle to sustain even the most self-sufficient premade terrariums.
I wouldn’t recommend, however, using preserved moss in an environment which will receive continued exposure to bright, direct sunlight, or one in which it shall be gushed with water (that’s what live terrarium moss is for).
If water passes through preserved moss, the dyed color will begin to leak – not only costing you lustrous moss but coating your hands and floor with green dye. Not the kind of green wall you want.
So, let’s talk about these creative applications. I will give you a guide on how to get the most from your preserved moss designs and artwork.
How to Use Preserved Moss: Creative Ideas and Design Tips
Now, I’ve given you a little bit of technical information and the ‘why’ you may choose preserved moss, let’s now look at the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.
Historically, moss has been used for over a thousand years as a decorative item and craft material.
Some of the most famous examples include the moss garden temples of Japan and the art of kokedama.
More recently, preserved moss has taken the world by storm.
Huge pieces of moss wall art spanning multiple rooms, graffiti-style moss portraits, and ornate moss-based terrariums are just a few examples of the works most popular today.
Let’s start by examining one of the most admired versions of these living artworks.
1 | Moss Wall Décor
There’s something about the 3-dimensional, natural feel of preserved moss that lends itself perfectly to vertical gardens.
It’s increasingly common for businesses across the world to decorate their interiors and offices with moss art installations, some spanning entire corridors or across ceilings.
But, if you’re interested in making a moss wall yourself, there’s no need to start so grandly.
Take any frame (preferably wooden) and lay it flat across a surface.
Use wood glue (I prefer gorilla wood glue, as it spreads easily and has a strong grip) and spread the adhesive along the interior face of the frame.
Then, one by one, place in your pieces of moss until the frame is completely covered and brimming with life.
> For more help, see my step-by-step guide on How to Make a Moss Wall.
- Let the moss dry for 24 hours before moving the frame. You could consider placing something weighty (perhaps another frame!) atop your completed frame to push the moss into the glue
- Use terrarium rock and terrarium wood to add another layer of natural beauty to your artwork. You could even add in preserved or artificial plants if you want to be a little extra.
- Place your types of moss in clusters so as to replicate the process of nature, whereby the same species of moss would have grown outwards from a point.
- And as a bonus, moss products are a great insulator of noise, you can use your frames to soundproof an area.
2 | Preserved Terrariums
Another of my favourites. The preserved mossarium (moss terrarium) is one that substitutes living organisms in place of the preserved, to create something particularly intricate and everlasting.
Preserved mossariums are often housed within geometric glassware, in which they can produce a sense that you’re witnessing a veritable Garden of Eden.
These types of terrariums are an excellent option if your abode or workplace lacks the proper conditions for a living specimen, or if you are particularly…ahem…unlucky when it comes to taking care of plants.
There are many ways to approach making your own preserved terrarium. If you’re placing pieces atop a substrate, it’s a simple as designing a natural closed terrarium.
If you are, on the other hand, hoping to achieve some verticality by creating a mini moss wall inside a glass vessel, you’ll need to choose the right adhesive.
When designing my prism terrariums, I first apply a thin cork backing to my glassware. For this, I use wood glue, though any strong grip glue that spreads decently will suffice.
Once that glue has set, I then place more glue atop the cork and follow in with my hardscape and pieces of moss.
- Use your cushion moss to create shadows that enhance the depth of your design and reduce flatness.
- Be careful when using glue, make sure that it doesn’t spill onto your exposed glass or on top of the moss. Take it slowly, wear gloves, and have a brush ready to help you spread the glue evenly across the surface.
- Don’t forget to allow each set of glue to dry for at least 24 hours, ensuring it is exposed to airflow so that it sets properly.
3 | Get Creative!
There are, truly, and an endless number of ways you can apply and make the most out of your preserved moss.
Resin art, for example, is particularly popular at the moment and I’m always seeing incredibly talented artists take it up to create items as small as jewellery to those as big as dining room tables.
Moss is a wonderful counterpart to this hobby, alongside elements such as pressed mushrooms and floral arrangements. If you’ve got some moulds, epoxy and a little preserved moss – why not make a pair of earrings as a Christmas gift? (or, indeed, a gift to yourself..)
Alternatively, with preserved moss, you can create the open-top planters that live mosses usually cannot withstand. With no need for water or mist, you can arrange a combination of cushion mosses alongside pebbles and sand to make a little zen garden. Perhaps use a coconut bowl.
There’s a versatility afforded that allow for endless experimentations. As I’m writing, I keep getting new ideas.
What about preserved moss kokedama that hang from ceilings? You could create massive hanging balls, like little planets!
Ok, you get the idea. I love moss.
I’m betting if you’ve come this far, you probably love moss too.
You will now have a better understanding of exactly what preserved moss is, why you would want to use it and exactly how you can get creative and make some pieces of your own.
If you’re looking for some more specific advice or have any general questions about preserved moss or pieces I’ve made, please let me know down below!