MossTiles – a really bad idea

A few months ago a colleague alerted me to MossTiles, which can be attached to walls to create interior vertical gardens. They look really cool, and I assumed they consisted of some tough little moss species rooted in a mesh-enclosed planting mix. But the more I read about them, the more confused I became. They don’t need light – or fertilizer – or water (though misting them occasionally is recommended). More investigation was in order.

It turns out that these aren’t made from moss at all, but lichens – specifically reindeer moss (Cladonia rangiferina). This slow-growing lichen is harvested in Scandinavia, "stabilized" in a salt solution, glued onto tiles with a resin, then dyed one of twelve different colors.

Come on. This isn’t a plant anymore. It might as well be made out of plastic. All the misting does is keeping them from drying out and crumbling to pieces.

Even worse, reindeer moss is a major food source for caribou and other large ruminants. It’s so slow growing that it’s a threatened (and protected) species in some parts of the world. Do we really need to have preserved plants hanging on our walls like some kind of botanical trophy?

If so, be sure you’ve got a fat wallet. Installation of MossTiles costs about $200 per tile.

Published by

Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - Books:

42 thoughts on “MossTiles – a really bad idea”

  1. Wow, this makes me feel a bit ill. Probably the worst example of a poser “green” product I’ve seen lately. Seems like something for wealthy folks who want to buy into the enviro-friendly scene.

  2. “Stabilized” in a salt solution? My guess is it’s as dead as a doornail and the “misting” is for naught. What a weird thing to do/sell.

  3. Oh, it’s dead all right. I was trying to think of the plant equivalent terminology for taxidermy and failed. Maybe one of our readers can come up with a clever word.

  4. These things remind me of the fake turf placemats a friend sent me once. Or those ‘topiary’ animals made from a wire armature and whatever it is that gets stuffed in it. Or my high school Alumni Day reunion float — chicken wire stuffed with lots of tissue paper. Any idea how that lichen is procured, or from whom?

  5. And the sad reality is we have had two customers bring in photos of these recently and ask if we carried them… with one of them we were able to steer them to a real living planted wall panel, but the other one wanted the “moss just like in the picture” and left to check elsewhere.

  6. Deb, all I know is that the promotional information says it comes from Scandinavia. The species is limited to alpine tundra areas, which are slow growing and fragile. “Harvesting” this important ruminant food source as a luxury item is, IMO,unconscionable.

  7. Well it seems only the kind of USA, one percenters, would be able to afford them, therefore, not much possibility for growth in sales.

  8. Just crazy. Lichens stabilized in a salt solution glued to a tile? Nutty. I wonder how long before we can buy them at IKEA?

  9. Dear All
    I have been reading with interest your comments. I understand your point of view regarding MOSS TILE. I would like to share with you the big success we are getting all over the world about this product which is harvested under the state control in order to respect the environment. Our company is the exclusive distributor worldwide and our idea is not to choose MOSS TILE instead of a beautiful green wall but to offer an option for those projects where certain conditions for plants cannot be guaranteed (for example light. Thank you to all of you. Emanuela

    1. You may be “successful” but that does not mean you are “right,” to harvest this fragile species. State control? State control never means that it is proper control. After all, a large Scandinavian country, Norway, still hunts WHALES under State sanction. You are making profits from harvesting a fragile resource that makes good food for arctic animals. It’s typical human nature to look out at the expanse of resources, in this case lichen, and see a never-ending supply. However, all resources are finite. Why take food from arctic animals? My god, they struggle enough as it is.

  10. First of all, these Moss tiles are fabulous…they add natural beauty to any interior design project. Secondly, this company is not the first to harvest reindeer moss or any other kind of moss. Preserved moss is widely used in crafting and can be obtained from numerous sources.

  11. A very small % of the reindeer moss that is harvested world wide is used in the MOSStile. The majority is used by arts and crafts stores and flower shops. I think it is a great option when a living wall can not be installed and it is laid on recycled plastic. Lets not be so quick to label it a “poser “green” product ”

    1. It doesn’t matter what “everyone else” is doing. It’s still a “poser green” product. Did you ignore the information about how this lichen grows? How difficult it is for it to thrive in its natural environment (arctic)? How long it takes to grow? How the caribou/reindeer (same animal) and other arctic animals absolutely depend on this lichen?

    1. Ha ha! “We Are Green!” You could have used shag carpet remnants for the same “green” effect. Did you ignore the information about how this lichen grows? How difficult it is for it to thrive in its natural environment (arctic)? How long it takes to grow? How the caribou/reindeer (same animal) and other arctic animals absolutely depend on this lichen? This reminds me of the arguments that the Japanese whalers use: Research! We are calling it “RESEARCH!” Research=good, therefore Whaling=Good. You can call “moss tiles” “green” and some people will happily believe you. But it’s not true at all.

  12. Living moss that is grown on moss farms on mats can be used on a substrate I am working on to make loving tiles. They need misting regularly as moss takes its nutrients from filtered sunlight and water mist…it does not have a root system. It is possible to have living moss tiles.

  13. I like that everyone defending mosstiles defends their aesthetic… which was never called into question. Green in colour is not green in mind.
    I think I will build a green wall myself and add some uv lights. I am sure I can find some that will really enhance the beautiful texture that plants offer.

  14. I recently got a box of this reindeer moss to make a panel, and as I was making it all these questions started popping up in my mind about where does it come from. I thought they must be farming it somewhere, but I was curious why the bagged stuff is so full of pine and fir needles, small cones, and hairs. ACTUAL reindeer hair, and not just a stray piece here and there. I could imagine them farming it in controlled environment grow-houses with floors covered in pine needles or something, but the hair made no sense. Got me to wondering and starting to look into it, thus discovering your post here.

    Besides the salt solution, there’s also the dye you mentioned. Vivid, day-glow colors that come off on your hands. Can’t be good. And in reading the box, it turns out it’s also soaked in flame-retardant chemicals like they use in furniture fabrics. That’s some nasty stuff!

    Gotta finish this panel that I’ve been commissioned for, but I know I sure won’t be advocating for these in the future.

  15. I’m sorry to see your comment about moss tile. I stand than you ve not be advise by a professional.
    This product is lichens “stabilized” it´s right and only for interiors. It s a good alternative when you can’t put a real vertical garden. You need only a wall and you install it with screws. the planks have 7cms thickness. You need a 40%<50% absolute humidity. If you re in a dry country you need to add a machine to humidify ambiance.
    A real vertical garden need 20cms thickness, an hydrant(faucet or tap) and a drainage basin big like the base of the garden. you need to waterproof wall too. To resume, it s more complicated and it s a different option.

    1. Did you ignore the information about how this lichen grows? How difficult it is for it to thrive in its natural environment (arctic)? How long it takes to grow? How the caribou/reindeer (same animal) and other arctic animals absolutely depend on this lichen?

  16. anyone experience with allergic reactions?
    I and i have trouble with airways and eyes afther a large pannel was placed in our office.
    I am not shure if my complains are coused by the moss tile…….
    But after 4 days holliday all the simptons where gone and back at the office it started again.

  17. This article popped up when googling, and I feel I really need to correct some misinformation written here. The “reindeer moss” walls and tiles are made of Cladonia Stellaris which is NOT endangered species in Scandinavia. It is a lichen, symbiotic organisms formed of a fungus and an alga.

    It grows quite slowly but when a responsible company collects it for decoration purposes, only a few tufts are handpicked here and there. This way the same picking area can be picked again in 10–15 years. So they don’t harvest all the moss from the forest. The business would go down if they don’t protect the moss because it can’t be cultivated. If you would go to those forests where the moss is just harvested, you wouldn’t even notice there has happened something.

    In Lapland there is not moss almost at all, because it is area where reindeer farmers and reindeers live. They don’t live in every part of Norway, Sweden and Finland, only in northern parts. On those areas reindeers eat almost all the moss so harvesting is done in other areas.

    1. I’m not sure it makes any difference which species we’re discussing – both are slow growing and ecologically important species. You’ll note that I did discuss lichens in the post, so I’m not sure what misinformation you’re referring to other than species identification.

      The question people should ask is whether they really need such an important part of an ecosystem as a decorative product.

  18. You write that reindeer moss used for moss panels (aka cladonia stellaris) is threatened, even protected – which is not true. Like Scandinavian people are criminals because they harvest it. It was the main issue bothering me.

    I don’t know where you are living, but you are very welcome to scandinavia to see our beautiful nature and how we live together with nature. People collect loads of things which are growing in the nature even they are important part of ecosystem. As long as they are collected in accordance with the idea of sustainable development, I can’t undestand what is the problem? Trees and part of trees, berries, mushrooms, sap, tar, peat, different kind of mosses, grasses, natural flowers, ornamental stones etc…why reindeer moss makes a difference? I don’t undestand.

  19. This is not factual at all. First of all, reindeer “moss” (the lichen) grows rampantly in several different conditions/zones, including sandy dunes, tundras, and forests all over the US, as well as abroad, and it thrives relatively easily, and is usually harvested in a sustainable way by people whose livelihoods have depended on letting it re-grow and not over-picking for decades. My company has been picking it in forests in Florida within a 50-mile radius for 25 years and have not damaged it’s growth.

    Also, preserving it does not render it “unnatural” or the same as a synthetic textile. Scientific studies show that the same emotional effects and feelings of well-being and happiness are imparted from these “moss walls” as from living plants indoors! Our senses can still detect that this is organic plant material, and it makes us happier.

    I cannot speak to what most companies use for preservation, but for us, we use kosher glycerine and non-toxic colors specifically formulated for the moss. Although it is usually live, unpreserved moss used in terrariums and other natural habitats, we have had many hundreds of customers use our preserved mosses in terrariums, amphibious habitats, and at zoos, for *25 years*, and have never once had a complaint of toxicity or harm to an animal or person.

    1. Let’s address this factually:
      1) Reindeer moss (Cladonia rangiferina) grows primarily in alpine tundra ecosystems, extending into the northern parts of the US and Europe. It does not grow in Florida. So I don’t know what your company has been picking in Florida, but it’s not “reindeer lichen.”
      2) This lichen does not “grow rampantly” (rampant = flourishing or growing unchecked). It is very slow growing: “Reindeer lichens are slow growing and long lived. Average growth rates of 4.8 to 11.1 mm/year [41] and average ages of over 100 years [1] have been reported.” Look at a metric ruler to see how what 11 mm (or 1.1 cm) looks like. This species may be common, but that’s not the same as growing rampantly []
      3) Anything that is preserved is not alive. Moss tiles are deceptively marketed to give the appearance of a living structure. If the whole point is to use nonliving materials, why not make them out of natural fibers rather than harvesting slow-growing lichens and then killing them?
      4) I have never seen a peer-reviewed, scientific study on the emotional response of people to moss tiles. Living plants, yes. I’d be interested in your citations.

  20. Hi Linda,
    I am a conservation biologist from Belgium, Europe doing some preliminary research on impact of this lichen and bryophyte harvesting for interior decoration. Could you point me to some more information on the subject? Scandinavian companies that produce and export these biota? Publications on negative effects for the ecosystem or otherwise examples of good practices in terms of sustainable use. In the European Union we have specific mention of the genus Cladonia and some bryophytes in nature conservation legislation (EU Habitat Directive) where harvesting, transportation, and trading these species is regulated. Norway isn’t a member of this union unfortunately, but i wonder if companies from Finland, Sweden, etc. are even in compliance with these laws…
    Thanks for any help and best regards!

    1. Hi Patrik – I did a quick search and came up with these references for you. Hope they will get you started.

      Leon, Y. and M.S. Ussher. 2005. Educational program directed towards the preservation of Venezuelan Andean bryophytes. Journal of the Hattori Botanical Laboratory 97:227-231
      In many tropical countries, severe bryophyte harvest from montane ecosystems takes place during the Christmas season each year. Bryophyte species are sold in local markets as decorations for nativity scenes; this is an ancient Andean tradition that has now been adopted by people in cities and towns outside of the Andes. This commerce involving bryophytes has grown in such a way that it threatens natural ecosystems, such as paramos and cloud forests, as well as invertebrates and vascular plant seedlings that live amongst or germinate in bryophytes. An educational program, directed towards the local Andean communities, was designed to minimize the impact of the massive seasonal bryophyte extraction. This programme was based at the Universidad de Los Andes-Centro Jardin Botanico and involved extensive collaboration with the local government and communities. The educational effort was directed towards teachers from elementary and high schools, and people from public institutions and environmental groups. The programme focuses on the role of bryophytes in the local ecosystems, and their importance in water storage and soil protection. Conferences for both children and adults were designed to bring the information to a diverse range of people in the local communities. The conferences were accompanied by information brochures and a campaign in local newspapers, on radio and television. For the first time, governmental institutions and the Universidad de Los Andes work together towards bryophyte conservation in this important and fragile ecosystem.

      Tuffen, M.G., R. Wisdom, and S. Nolan. 2019. Report of a rapid pest risk analysis for Lambdina fiscellaria (Guenée, [1858]) (Lepidoptera: Geometridae) for the island of Ireland. Bulletin OEPP/EPPO Bulletin 49(2):364-373.
      The hemlock looper, Lambdina fiscellaria (Guenée), is a serious forest pest in North America with three subspecies that vary in their geographical range and larval host preferences. Both broadleaved and coniferous trees are infested, though the largest impacts are on coniferous forestry where trees can be completely defoliated and killed. The pest was identified as a potential threat to forestry on the island of Ireland during a horizon-scanning exercise to identify pests of Picea sitchensis (Bong.) Carr. (Sitka spruce) and was subject to a rapid pest risk analysis (PRA). Though judged to be unlikely, pathways identified were uncontrolled wood commodities and mosses and lichens harvested from forests in North America and exported for use in ornamental displays. Lambdina fiscellaria is found in a range of climate types, and is likely to be able to complete its lifecycle in the Irish climate – although there is uncertainty concerning its ability to adapt to European trees. Lambdina fiscellaria has only a limited capacity for spread, as virgin females are burdened by their eggs and are poor fliers. This was judged to reduce potential impacts in the PRA area – as the slow rate of spread would provide time to develop monitoring and control methods well ahead of the pest reaching its maximum extent on the island of Ireland. The pest still poses a considerable risk to coniferous forestry not only on the island of Ireland but across the EPPO region where climate is suitable for the pest to establish. Regulation and implementation of phytosanitary measures prevent introduction of the pest should be considered.

      Devkota, S., R.P. Chaudhary, S. Werth, and C. Scheidegger. 2017. Trade and legislation: consequences for the conservation of lichens in the Nepal Himalaya. Biodiversity and Conservation 26(10):2491-2505. Lichen harvest and trade are closely associated with the livelihood of most of the rural people in Western Nepal. The present study investigates the commercial collection of lichens, quantifies the traded volume and relates it to a market scenario, and discusses conservation measures in relation to established legal practices in Nepal. Data on lichen trade and revenue generated for the 12 years (2000-2011) were collected and analyzed from 74 districts of Nepal. Voucher specimens were deposited at TUCH (Tribhuvan University Central Herbarium) in Nepal. The lichens collected in West Nepal are mainly used in international trade, while those in East Nepal are used locally for food. A total of 20 commercially important species of lichens were identified from five trade centers and one local market. During 2000-2011, Nepal legally exported 2020 tons of lichens and collected NRs 25,293,305 (USD 240,000). The average annual quantity of turnover was 168 tons, though it is estimated that much was exported illegally. The hill districts in Nepal, which traded 1774 tons, were more important for the collection of commercial lichen species than the Mountainous and inner-Tarai districts, which traded 167 and 108 tons, respectively. Through the Forest Act, Forest Regulations and its amendment in 2011, the collection of lichens for harvest, trade and export in any crude or processed form was banned. However, the legislation lacks an effective implementation strategy, and sustainable harvest of lichen resources based on scientific data would better serve local livelihood and lichen conservation in Nepal.

      Gómez Peralta, M. and J.H.D. Wolf. 2001. Commercial bryophyte harvesting in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Sierra Chincua, Michoacan, Mexico. Bryologist 104(4):517-521.
      Each Christmas season, the abundance of terrestrial bryophytes in the Abies-dominated forests of the Sierra Chincua, part of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, attracts moss gatherers. Bryophyte mats are harvested as ornamentals, packed, and sold at the central auction of Mexico City. In 1996, we followed a group of approximately 10 family members in this activity and documented economic and ecological aspects. During the season they removed in total nearly 50 tonnes of fresh weight of bryophytes from the forest floor that was sold for approximately $3500 USD, leaving behind a mosaic of gaps of bare soil in the mossy layer. The average gap size was 0.48 m2 and extraction intensity varied between 0.5 and 4.1% of the total surface area (2.14% on average). In addition, over 11 000 Abies seedlings were unintentionally removed. We conceive that the Mexican norm for bryophyte harvesting is not in line with current practices and we recommend the inclusion of guidelines for patch size, and that harvesters pay attention to accidental removal of tree seedlings.

      Peck, J.E. and P.S. Muir. 2001. Harvestable epiphytic bryophytes and their accumulation in Central Western Oregon. Bryologist 104 (2):181-190.
      Methods for characterizing the composition, biomass, and accumulation rates of harvestable epiphytic bryophytes in the understorey of temperate forests have recently been developed, but have yet to be implemented in a much wider geographical area and adapted to provide estimates at the individual mat level. In response to regulatory need, we modified and implemented these methods in 27 50+ year-old upland and riparian forest stands below 915 m to: (a) characterize the composition of harvestable epiphytic bryophytes in central western Oregon, USA, (b) evaluate the compositional changes immediately following harvest, and (c) retrospectively estimate minimum simple accumulation rates for harvestable bryophyte mats. Twenty-two bryophyte species, two lichens, and one vascular plant were found in a total of 433 sampled mats, dominated by Isothecium myosuroides, Neckera douglasii, Antitrichia curtipendula, Frullania tamarisci subsp. nisquallensis, and Porella navicularis. Harvest brought on significant shifts in the relative abundance of species primarily through the disproportionate removal of these species, which are commonly found in harvestable bryophyte mats throughout western Oregon. The minimum simple accumulation rate for bryophyte mats from 13 of these stands, calculated as the oven-dried mat mass per unit surface area divided by the stem age, was 22.4 (std 15.5) g/m2/year and is approximately comparable to that previously observed in the Coast and Cascade Ranges of northwestern Oregon. This accumulation rate translates into a commercial harvest rotation period of at least 21 (std 12) year. This long rotation time, coupled with the scarcity of sites supporting harvestable mats, leads to our recommendation that commercial bryophyte harvest be prohibited in the study region.

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