What Side of the Tree Does Moss Grow On?
What side of the tree does moss grow on? Seems like an odd question at first, yeah?
However, it’s not so odd when you consider that many people think moss grows only on the north side of trees. And it’s even less odd when you also consider the fact that many other people are convinced that moss only grows on the south side of trees.
Both of those beliefs may seem like harmless fictions — except that there may be some wayward hikers out there trying to navigate their way through a forest using one of these fictions as fact.
So let’s set the record straight.
Plants and Sunlight
Most plants grow toward the sunlight. Moss, however, is a little different.
Mental Floss has a good piece on this subject.
They write: “The idea that moss grows on the north side of trees is an old one, says Dan Johnson, Assistant Professor of Forest Biology in the College of Natural Resources at the University of Idaho, ‘and it makes a lot of sense. Since the north side of a tree gets less sunlight than the other parts of a tree it should be cooler, more damp and have more shade — perfect conditions for mosses.’”
Most plants grow towards the light. But mosses prefer shade. Thus, it’s possible that the conventional wisdom about moss growing on one particular side of a tree has more to do with where the observer and the moss are located.
Trees in the northern hemisphere may have moss growing more readily on their northern side since that’s the side that’s typically left in the dark — especially during the winter months. Southern hemisphere moss may prefer to be on the southern side of trees, where it’s also more shaded and damp.
Moss Myth vs. Moss Reality
So no — moss does not grow on a particular side of trees. It can grow on any side where it finds suitable conditions.
In an older but still relevant post, the folks at the University of California (Santa Barbara) write (with refreshing bluntness): “Your observation that moss only grows on the north side of trees tells me you haven’t looked for moss near trees in the southern hemisphere. Moss is a simple plant and likes to grow in shady locations so it does not dry out. It is pretty simple to picture why this is the north side of trees here and the south side of trees in Australia for example.”
So what side of the tree does moss grow on? It depends!
One last note on this subject: Be sure to take a map and compass with you on hikes — and be sure you know how to use both. Don’t rely on moss to show you the way home.
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