Jessamyn West's Mossarium Emporium
July 26, 2015 10:12 PM   Subscribe

"Mossariums are simple, low maintenance and fun. They're durable and will last a long time. You can get moss from your backyard, from your favorite trips, or delivered in the mail. Here's all you need..." From Mefi's own jessamyn. [via mefi projects]
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (30 comments total) 111 users marked this as a favorite
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome moss-some

The lightbulb one is my favorite -- for some reason it presses happy buttons in me that I never knew existed.
posted by not_on_display at 10:36 PM on July 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

I made one of these as a kid. You can get special terrarium bowls for them. Mine had a large loosely-fitted cork which let some air exchange, without letting the whole thing dry out. Also, other little boggy plants can look very nice in it. Literally! If you have a bog or swamp nearby, and you see little plants there, they might coexist nicely with your moss.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:41 PM on July 26, 2015

I used to have moss growing in the cracks of a car i had (like in the rim around the hood plus elsewhere). Actual Northwestern rainforest moss, not algae (though the car had plenty of that also). If i had kept the car i expect it would have progressed to spruce seedlings.
posted by D.C. at 10:58 PM on July 26, 2015 [7 favorites]

This is SUPER cool! Putting this on the "but I'm bored!" projects list for the Little Creatures.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:59 PM on July 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

Cool. And NO rolling stones (or am I uncool for thinking that's a GOOD thing?)
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:03 AM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here in Scotland, the mossarium climate is on the outside. A desert in a jar would be a neat alternative - but there is a little work to do in terms of convincing Google that I can spell.
posted by rongorongo at 1:06 AM on July 27, 2015 [11 favorites]

Try 'arid terrarium' as a search term
posted by esto-again at 3:15 AM on July 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

If this is what working Internet Archive does to a person, we can probably get your old job back.
posted by dr_dank at 5:06 AM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Moss gardens are neat, but please be mindful of how and where you get your materials. Please note that in most of the U.S. collecting plants on public lands is prohibited and in some states moss gathering is called out specifically as forbidden in state parks.
posted by winna at 5:22 AM on July 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

Neat, but did no one notice the moss-ception involved? Moss on Spanish moss? Not only do we have to go deeper, but we need to encourage plant cannibalism?
posted by Samizdata at 5:42 AM on July 27, 2015

If you have a microscope, rinse some of your moss out in distilled water and look for moss piglets; 40x magnification is good, 100x is best
posted by nonspecialist at 6:09 AM on July 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

oneswellfoop: Dammit, now I want to get one of these and turn it into a mossarium.
posted by jferg at 6:45 AM on July 27, 2015

If this is what working Internet Archive does to a person, we can probably get your old job back.

Gives me time to walk in the woods and not have to deal with tending the constant snarking of internet people? Nah, I'm good.

Glad you guys liked this. I live in the forest in Vermont so moss is basically abundant like dead leaves and pretty easy to collect while I'm out hiking. I didn't know you can even freeze it for months if it's not a good time to put together mossariums. It is becoming a big business though which means that yeah, there are rules about taking it from public places that should be heeded.
posted by jessamyn at 7:11 AM on July 27, 2015 [9 favorites]

I have three or four moss-only terrariums, plus about another half-dozen where there is moss in combination with other plants, and man oh man, I love moss in terrariums. It's pretty, it's easy, and it's super-useful if you want to make the terrarium self-sustaining -- healthy rock cap or fern moss and the kinds of moss shown in the pictures help maintain a consistent, humid environment that other humidity-sensitive plants really appreciate. And unlike a lot of other terrarium plants, moss isn't super-aggressive (cough, baby's tears, cough) and won't overwhelm smaller or slower-growing plants.

Pro-tip: include a sprinkling of activated charcoal (available at your local aquarium supply store) when mixing up the stones or soil or whatever. It'll help keep the air/water from getting funky-smelling.
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:12 AM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm totally going to do this with the kids. Thanks!
posted by saulgoodman at 7:24 AM on July 27, 2015

As a side note, it is a really, really bad idea to harvest wild bog plants for your terrariums:

1.In general, you're rolling the dice on fucking up your terrarium whenever you bring in wild plants. The risks are slightly mitigated with moss because they tend to bring less soil with them/if you are doing a moss-only terrarium. In general, though, wild plants have all kinds of bugs and molds and funguses and bacteria in the soil around them. A plant might not look like it's harboring those things out in the wild, but inside a closed terrarium, things will go freak wild crazy. Ask me how I know. Ask me about my salty ugly tears as a baby terrarium-maker when I ignored advice and put a cute wild plant directly into my pretty, established little terrarium with cute shells and tiny garden furniture, 45% of which dissolved into a puddle of horrifying smelling gray-green goo with approximately 10,000 tiny flies overnight.

(Quarantine can help, but it doesn't always help, because conditions in the quarantine tank might be different from the actual terrarium).

2. The more charismatic bog plants can be really, really hard to keep alive. I'm a fairly experienced indoor/terrarium gardener, though I'm not as experienced as some Mefites, but I have never gotten a Venus Fly Trap as an adult because, well. This is what you have to do to keep them alive. That's a long list.

3. And well, if you can't keep it alive that cool-looking bog plant you dug out of the wild? The cooler it looks, the more likely it is to be endangered as really endangered things. Even when the plant that you dig isn't itself endangered, bogs/wetlands make up many of the most pressured/hanging-on-by-a-thread ecosystems near population centers across the world.

tl;dr: digging wild plants for your terrarium can be a bad idea for your terrarium. Unless you know what you're digging out and are sure you're not destroying sensitive habitat and can keep what you dig alive, digging bog plants from the wild is a Really Bad Idea.
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:24 AM on July 27, 2015 [7 favorites]

I have to show my smallest human these, last year I explained to her what moss was and she became obsessed by it for couple of months. All the time when we were out walking it was "OMG there's some MOSS on that rock!?!"
I'm getting medium-term moss-related nostalgia feels.
posted by threecheesetrees at 7:32 AM on July 27, 2015

This looks neat, but I have a question: can I substitute something for the Spanish moss? A layer of twigs, perhaps? Craft stores aren't a thing where I live, and Spanish moss is impossible to find. Ironic, given that I live in ACTUAL Spain.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 8:33 AM on July 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Simple mossariums are a gateway drug. Be careful.

Back in 2007 I got a nice Singaporean moss for my freshwater shrimp tank. A few weeks later the hallway carpets in my building were deep cleaned with some nasty chemicals, and the fumes killed all my shrimp. Only the moss survived.

I decided that if I was going to keep some moss, I would do it right. First I made a mossarium in a mason jar. Then I started reading about moss. Hundreds of hours of reading later, I was doing in-vitro propagation of mosses I collected in the wild in Mexico and Northern California, and was trading them with other moss enthusiasts around the world.

There is a proper way to collect tiny samples of moss from the wild, and to sterilize them and grow them into healthy, genetically diverse moss, but it is a delicate time consuming process. You need to separate the green leafy parts from the spore capsules, dunk the spore capsules in 3% sodium hypoclorite (bleach) for 90 seconds, and rinse with distilled water. You transfer the spores onto sterile growing media, using a sterile glove box or a laminar flow hood, then wait and hope that you get viable non contaminated cultures. I as getting like 10% success in my kitchen, proper labs can get over 50%. I used this as a reference for growing media.

I lost most of my pictures and documents from this period of my life in a multiple hard drive failure. I have this picture of the bog terrarium when it was mostly carnivorous plants. There are 12 different species of moss growing there, but some colonies are tiny and hard to see.

The carnivorous plants also come from in-vitro propagation, from a biologist acquaintance. I won them in a bet, when I claimed I could clone and culture to maturity a wild picked mushroom using only stuff in my kitchen and a beginners aquarium kit.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 9:28 AM on July 27, 2015 [22 favorites]

Interesting! I tried to make something similar when I was a kid (in an unschooled attempt to build a closed ecosystem), but ended up with a miasma of mold and death. Maybe I'll give it another shot!

Will fully artificial indoor lighting work, or do they really need indirect sunlight?

Do they really work in sealed containers (like the jam jars), or do you need to have little holes to allow for some gas diffusion?
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:42 AM on July 27, 2015

This book is probably common knowledge to the mosscentric amoung us, especially the librarians, but I found it to be one of the most readable most informative natural history books of any kind I've read recently. Highly recommended.

Also this is kind of weird because I am into succulents and was thinking of expanding my horizons, and I had this distant memory of someone posting pictures of their moss-in-jars here at mefi, so I was going to do an ask-me about that, and, well here it is.
posted by Rumple at 10:44 AM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do they really work in sealed containers (like the jam jars), or do you need to have little holes to allow for some gas diffusion?

Mine really work in sealed containers as long as there isn't something in there which is decomposing.
posted by jessamyn at 10:49 AM on July 27, 2015

Very cool. Makes me want to start doing this.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:05 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

coscmi.osmo, they work well in sealed containers, it is harder to make them work in open containers unless you keep them in a very humid room.

They don't need indirect sunlight, but if you are going to use indoor lighting you need a full spectrum lamp. You can get pretty good full spectrum or daylight spectrum LED 'bulbs' that go into normal light bulb sockets for $25.

I kept minealive in open containers first by having an aquarium air pump continuously bubbling in distilled water. They noise sucks so later I used submersible ultrasonic fogger connected to a timer, they are cheap and easy to use. I loved the look of the fog.

It is good to use distilled, reverse osmosis or clean rainwater for moss and most bog plants. The minerals in tap water will slowly accumulate and kill them. These plants are slow growers, so it can be 6 months or more before you notice any symptoms, and then it is too late.

Adding activated charcoal to the water cuts down on smells, if you have any, and it may help keeping the water cleaner.

But at the end, if you live where moss grows naturally, it takes little effort to collect a little bit and experiment, and it brings a lot of joy to get it right. Just find out what works for you.

Bonus: Found another one of my pictures. This shows a moss that can grow fully immersed or immersed. In the water it makes this vertical Christmas tree like fronds, in the air it makes a very thick dense mat. This one I grew over 2 years from a 5mm strand shipped from Singapore. The crayfish was there in algae control duty.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 2:35 PM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Some more better recent Jessamyn...
3. Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.

This is a total Ask MetaFilter maxim, but no one is expecting you to be a total ascetic monk while you walk your path. Be mindful of the choices you are making, but don’t self-abnegate for no reason. Dorothy Day’s autobiography is titled The Long Loneliness which talks about the necessity of community but also highlights the poignancy and difficulty of a principled life lived only for others. You can’t help people from a hermitage, most people can’t. Do the things you need to do to take care of yourself first and then work your way outward. Be supportive of your own choice to do that and be a friend to yourself. Try to remain open to criticism that other people may have drawn the line between their own needs and the needs of others differently.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:09 PM on July 27, 2015

Metafilter: This book is probably common knowledge to the mosscentric amoung us, especially the librarians
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:32 PM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I. Love. EVERYTHING. About this thread.

Simple mossariums are a gateway drug. Be careful.

posted by Doleful Creature at 5:34 PM on July 28, 2015


This screech just reminded me of something.

Moss is not mentioned in the bible, but in some pseudepigraphical Isaiah books from around the third century it makes an appearance. It is mentioned that hyenas and owls and other screeching animals will use moss to line their nests in the ruined houses of Babylon.

Would you happen to know anything about this Doleful Creature? I would be surprised if you did, because I just made it up.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 4:17 PM on July 29, 2015

I had a mossarium dream today. Thanks guys!
posted by bq at 4:51 PM on July 29, 2015

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