Mosses are delightful little plants in a division called Bryophytes. Real plants, although very capable of confusing people. Lichens are, of course, not plants.
See also Mosses and Liverworts, on this site.
We casually call several things “mosses” that are in fact lichens. Here are a few of them:
- Oakmoss is the lichen Evernia prunastri. It is commercially collected in Europe and used as a fixative in perfumes. It is also available as extracts.
- Iceland moss is the Arctic and alpine lichen Cetraria islandica, found at higher elevations in Colorado and throughout the Rocky Mountains.
- Lungmoss is Lobaria pulmonaria, a large tree lichen found in moist habitats in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.
Others fall into other parts of the tree of life:
Irish moss, Chondrus crispus, is a red alga, aka “seaweed.” In products, you can spot it as carrageenan.
- Irish moss can be a true flowering plant, Sagina subulata, used as a ground cover. Sometimes it’s also called Scotch moss.
- Spanish moss is also a true flowering plant. Growing on trees in the Southeast U.S., it is a plant related to pineapples (Bromeliaceae), Tillandsia usneoides. (Note that its scientific name reminds us it looks like the lichen genus Usnea.)
Can you think of more “not mosses”? If so, share them in the comments and we’ll add them to the list.
Learn more about real mosses:
Moss Plants and More, a great science blog
By the way, peat moss is a REAL moss, Sphagnum spp.