More Mosses

(Unedited version)
Originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of
Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine

More Mosses

Aquatic mosses have become very popular in planted aquariums in the last several years, taking center stage in many award winning aquarium designs. In March of 2006 we looked at the mosses most available then; Java moss, Fontinalis and Christmas tree moss. Today many more mosses are showing up for sale to be used in the aquarium, offering a wide variety of looks.

Most aquarium mosses I've tried have been very easy to grow. They will survive and grow in low to higher level lighting and live in soft to relatively hard water. Of course providing supplemental fertilizers, CO2 and optimal lighting will encourage much more rapid and often thicker growth in your mosses.

Trimming vs. pulling

More often the problem with aquarium mosses isn't getting them to grow, it's keeping them to the area you'd like them to grow in and not letting them take over the entire aquarium. Mosses will need to be thinned just like any other aquarium plants. You can trim them with a pair of scissors and carefully suck out the pieces with an aquarium vacuum. Sometimes an aquarium net can also be useful in getting moss or other small plant parts from the aquarium after a trim. Another way to thin your mosses is to just manually pull some of them apart and remove them. This is usually what I do. I usually use two hands, one to hold the main moss down and one to pull some out.


Mosses and algae are not a good combination. The two types of algae most likely to become a problem for your moss garden are hair algae and cyanobacteria. Hair algae can get entangled in your moss and are very difficult to pull out. Cyanobacteria is not a true algae, even though it is often called blue-green algae, but a type of photosynthesizing bacteria. It has a very slimy feel and a distinctive and unpleasant musty odor. Cyanobacteria can be a fleeting problem or can decide to totally take over your aquarium. If it gets on your mosses it can cover them, smothering them from light and killing them.

With all algae problems make sure your aquarium is clean and stocked under the levels your filtration and water changes can handle. If you get algae in your moss the best thing to do is try to remove as much as you can manually and then work on improving the conditions of your aquarium in an effort to eradicate the problem. CO2 and fertilization levels should be in sync with the amount of lighting you use to maximize plant growth while minimizing algae.

The standards

Java moss, for many years, has been the most common moss found in the aquarium hobby. Historically, Java moss has been identified as Vesicularia dubyana in both aquarium literature and among hobbyists. Recently this has been challenged by hobbyists Loh Kwek Leong and Gan Cheong Weei and Dr. Benito Tan of Singapore. Loh Kwek Leong has long been known in aquarium plant groups on the internet for his love of and knowledge of aquatic mosses. He and Gan Cheong Weei have been collecting mosses from hobbyists and shops, and giving them to Dr. Tan to identify. Dr. Tan is a Professor of the National University of Singapore and received the Richard Spruce Award for his work on mosses in 2004. They have tentatively identified Java moss as Taxiphyllum barbieri. For more information there is a wonderful web site on aquarium mosses at

Java moss has long and strands and small leaf like structures. In my opinion it's one of the least attractive of the aquatic mosses. It does grow very easily, attaches to wood, rocks, gravel or sometimes the sides of the aquarium. If left to it's own devices it will eventually fill an aquarium and smother out the other plants.

Willow Moss, which was long referred to as simply Fontinalis, short for F. antipyretica is a common wild moss. Since this moss is so common it has been regularly used in aquariums. It is more delicate and slower growing than some of the other mosses and though often used by hobbyists who collected their own, it wasn't widely distributed commercially in the past. It has become more available in recent years as the popularity of mosses has grown.

Christmas tree moss is a lovely moss, often readily available and very easy to grow. In good lighting it spreads as a thick green carpet across your aquarium or on wood or rocks. Left to it's own devices it will create large mounds in the aquarium and can eventually cover the bottom portion of your tank. Christmas tree moss is currently identified in the hobby as a Vesicularia species.

New Mosses for the Aquarium

Phoenix Mosses are one of the most interesting and attractive of the mosses that have become available lately. The fronds are unusual among the mosses and similar to tiny green ostrich feathers. These “feathers” then grow in a mound like clump and create a unique display in the aquarium. Several species of Fissidens are sometime available through retailers and among other hobbyists. Small portions of the clump can removed and placed elsewhere to grow new mounds. Phoenix moss will also grow nicely attached to wood. It does seem to grow quite a bit more slowly than some of the other mosses, which can be great if you get tired of constantly trimming your mosses but can be less wonderful if you're hoping to grow it quickly. It also seems to be a magnet for hair algae, possibly complicated by it's slower growth.

Flame Moss has a very unusual straight upward type of growth of the frond that makes it a favorite among planted tank enthusiasts. The fronds also tend to spiral or twist as they grow giving more of a flame like appearance. Tied to branches flame moss resembles a green fire growing in the aquarium and can look stunning. To keep up the flame look it should be trimmed regularly, otherwise it tends to grow in to larger clumps that are still attractive but lose some of the fire look. Flame moss is tentatively identified as another moss in the Taxiphyllum genus.

Spiky Moss has also been tentatively identified as belonging to the Taxiphyllum genus. It has a very thin long leaf like structures along it's frond and looks very attractive in the aquarium. The ends of the fronds are a lighter color than the rest of the plants making little bright spots that give the moss an interesting appearance. In my experience this moss works well as a ground cover or on wood. The growth tends to branch out on a relatively horizontal plane.

Stringy Moss has somewhat large leaf like structures that are spread farther apart than the other aquarium mosses. This moss also has a very interesting growth pattern in that they grow up, like a stemmed plant, rather than horizontally across the substrate. This plant has also been identified as being from the Taxiphyllum genus.

Weeping Moss is popular for it's weeping growth pattern, this moss, identified as being from the genus Vesicularia can be placed on a piece of decoration and the ends of the moss will grow downward. This can be used to create attractive displays in the aquarium. Weeping moss is in the genus Vesicularia.

Where ever you can find them

Sidewalk Moss, yes one of my friends tried plain old tiny little pieces of moss off the sidewalk and has it growing in aquariums. The moss is quite tiny and thin but it grows. There are probably many mosses growing in the wilds, that would survive in aquariums. The chances of their survivability improve with the higher tech aquariums and additional CO2. You may find the next must have aquarium moss on a future walk in the woods, or even right outside your front door.

Figuring out what you have

You may have some difficulty in determining the species of mosses you purchase. If the name comes with the plant be sure to carefully record it so you remember exactly what species you have. Once you lose the name you may have a great deal of difficulty in finding out what moss your growing, many species can look very similar. Even if you're suspicious of the name, if you keep that information with who or where you acquired the plant, it may help in determining the correct species later. If you don't know for sure what your moss is but you have what you think is a pretty good guess, it's OK to guess but make sure if you trade or sell your moss you let the person that acquires it knows that you aren't sure of the exact species.

Mosses are becoming more and more popular aquarium plants. They are generally very easy to grow and their small size works well within the confines of the home aquarium. Many also carpet nicely and will grow well on rocks, wood and other decorations giving the aquarium a naturalized look. With all the new mosses becoming available you might not know which ones to pick to try out in your aquarium. I informally asked members of my local group, Arizona Aquatic Plant Enthusiasts, which of the new mosses they liked best. The flame moss and phoenix moss were the favorites for their unusual appearance and growth. Taiwan moss, another Taxiphyllum species was also mentioned for it's full fronds.

Mosses recall the cool dark and peaceful feeling of the primeval forest. These lovely primitive plants are great for giving a soft natural look to your aquarium. No matter which moss you try, you can't go wrong for ease of growth and beauty.

Welcome to the Jungle | Into The Forest | The Creepy Crawlies | A Clearing in the Thicket | Algae Eaters for the Planted Aquarium
North American Natives | Why things go wrong Pt 1 | Why things go wrong Pt 2 (Algae) | Algae Eating Shrimp | Lo-Tech Tanks
Welcome to the Fish Room | The Stemmed Plants | Mosses | A Livebearer Biotope | Planted Tank Social | The Genus Hygrophila | Cyanobacteria
Easy Plants | What I Did Last Summer | Decorations in the Planted Tank | Botany-An Introduction to Plant Biology | Botany-Anatomy of a plant
Botany-How Plants Work | Easy Rosettes | Going High-Tech | Floating Plants | Dealing with Success | Bringing the Outside In | Vallisneria
Hair Algae | Flowering Aquarium Plants Part 1 | Flowering Aquarium Plants Part 2 | Liverworts in the Aquarium | Elements of Design
Planted Aquarium Maintenance | More Mosses | Invaders | Ferns in the Aquarium | Setting up a Planted Aquarium
Seaweeds of the Pacific Northwest | Proserpinaca | Hardware for the Planted Aquarium | Rotala | Neocaridina Shrimp | Lo-tech Tank Tips

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