Unfortunate fact: Yard moss is bigger than all of us

Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2001

A lot of people who live in the temperate rainforest of Southeast Alaska feel compelled to carpet their yards with thick, exclusive, not-from-around-here grass. Nature really wants moss in those yards, however, so the conflict turns into a bit of a battle. The lawnmongers strategize with weed-killing fertilizers, Nature counters with the climate. Nature is ahead by quite a few yards, mine included.

Trying to get into the spirit of aiding and abetting the grass lobby, I got a couple bags of some kind of treatment. I had to put tire chains on the spreader, but managed to distribute the granular stuff over our rich, bottomless mat of moss with a few weak blades of grass reaching up through it. Looking over it later, waiting for the moss to die, I couldn't help thinking there has to be some middle ground. If not middle ground, some way to live peacefully with the moss. If not some way to live peacefully with the moss, to make commercial hay, so to speak. There is certainly enough of it to start a store. And it seems to be ignoring if not savoring the stuff I tried to kill it with.

My favorite wild plant book has a section on peat mosses of which it says we have over 40 species in our area. The next section is on true mosses (peat mosses are apparently untrue) and describes over 60 of them. What is in my yard looks exactly like all of them. What is real interesting is that some species of several genera have antibiotic qualities. We have all heard about sphagnum moss being used for surgical dressing in World War I, but people in many places have used it whenever something soft, absorbent and bactericidal is needed. Moss seems far too handy to kill off and replace with grass.

I could simply bag and try to sell the moss in my yard, but I'm leaning toward value added. How useful would you find a pair of socks, for example, that are soft, keep foot disease at bay and wick moisture until the cows come home? Try the knitted model in several weights or the crocheted slipper. Taking it a step further, I've transplanted living moss into a boot. Here it conforms to your foot and grows as it wears (self-darning) for a perpetual good fit. I realize it's bad business to make something that never wears out, but the boot host would dissolve in time and you could release the whole thing into the wild. Or have me transplant your liners into new boots. Wait, there's more! How about floor mats for your car? They muffle road noise like crazy and just need wringing out now and then.

The whole problem with a yard full of moss is that it is a shade or two too pale. It's a light green that would be sick if it were grass. Grass is supposed to be a bright, crayon green. When that is the neighborhood standard, moss just doesn't measure up. It's also too quiet. Since you don't have to mow it, there is no firing up the mower of a weekend morning and bonding with your neighbors. Nature is winning the yard skirmish and doesn't need any advice from me, but if she'd made the moss a bit darker and in need of mowing, perhaps we'd embrace it and stop with the grass. I think she enjoys the competition and has developed a taste for the weed-killing fertilizers.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.

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