Also called Scotch moss, this evergreen herbaceous perennial is not a moss or even closely related to mosses. It is a member of the carnation family, Caryophyllaceae, that also includes, pinks, baby’s breath, and chickweed. Native to eastern and western Europe, the plants grow 1-2″ tall, slowly spreading to form a mat up to 10″ wide. The creeping stems carry awl-shaped leaves that are 1/16-1/8″ long . Clusters of star-shaped 1/2″ wide flowers with 5 white petals appear on thin stalks in spring and sporadically thereafter. The flowers give way to an oblong capsule with tiny smooth, brown, triangular seeds. The plants tend to be short lived but self-seed so usually maintain a presence in the garden. The species is rarely grown but the cultivar ‘Aurea’ is popular for use as a groundcover, around stepping stones, or as an edger along a path as well as in a rock garden or fairy garden. Scotch moss is often confused with Irish moss (Sagina subulata) because they look almost identical when not in flower. Scotch moss tends to have more yellow green foliage and produces its flowers in clusters while Irish moss is emerald green and produces its flowers singly. In addition, Irish moss is more tolerant of foot traffic and heat. The genus name, Arenaria, comes from the Latin word arena, meaning sand, and refers to the soil of the natural habitat of most, but not all, of the plants. The specific epithet, verna, is the Latin word meaning spring and refers to the fresh green color of the foliage.
Type: Evergreen herbaceous perennial
Bloom: Clusters of tiny, star-shaped flowers with 5 white petals in spring
Size: 1-2″ H x 8-10″ W
Light: Full sun (tolerates partial shade but becomes leggy; needs some afternoon shade in the South)
Soil: Fertile, consistently moist, well-drained, slightly acidic to neutral
Hardiness: Zones 4-7
Care: Fertilize once a year in spring; remove old plants as they become unattractive
Pests and Diseases: None of significance but will develop crown rot in soils that are too wet. Susceptible to damage by slugs.
Propagation: Division in spring or fall; seed in spring or fall
Companion Plants: Spring bulbs such as crocus and snowdrops, lavender, creeping phlox (Phlox sublata)
Outstanding Selection: ‘Aurea” (yellow green foliage)
Photo Credit: Wikipedia