What is the Difference Between Mosses, Mushrooms and Lichen

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Lichen, Moss and Mushroom have some things in common but they are not related. Lichen is symbiotic algae and fungi, mushrooms are fungi and Moss is a bryophyte plant.

Moss, lichen and mushrooms, while they may have some similarity are not just varieties of the same organism.

  • Moss is a non-vascular plant that reproduces from spores.
  • Lichen is a growth of algae and fungus in a symbiotic relationship.
  • Mushrooms are the fruiting body of a fungus.


Mosses are bryophytes, as are liverworts and hornworts. Bryophytes have no vascular system as in woody plants. Those plants with vascular systems are called tracheophytes, having xylem and phloem (vascular tissue) to carry water and nutrients up and down between the leaves to the roots. Mosses produce no seed but rather reproduce from spore.

The structure of moss upon close examination, may appear to be composed of minute stems holding up a pod that might appear to be a flower bud. However, the “stem” is really just a non-woody stalk called a seta holding up a capsule filled with spore. The growth below the seta which appear to be leaves are not true leaves. The “root” of a moss is merely an anchoring structure and is not a true root. Instead of receiving nutrients through a vascular system, mosses have the ability to absorb nutrients through their tissues but does not have a system to transport the nutrients through a large plant. This lack of a vascular system necessitates the small size of mosses.

  • Moss can be found from arctic to tropical climates, having over ten thousand species
  • Spanish Moss is not a moss; it is a flowering, seed producing plant
  • Lichen is not moss; it is a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungus
  • Club moss is not moss; club moss is a spore producing vascular plant related to ferns


Lichen is a growth that appears on rocks, trees, soil and many other structures and material such as the shingles on your roof. The growth is a combination of algae and fungus living in a symbiotic relationship. The algae has photosynthetic cells which produce energy and nutrients for the fungus and the fungus traps and holds moisture for the algae. Lichen is scaley and grows in large patches in colors from rust to lime green. The color will be dependant on the type of algae and the type of fungus that have united. Lichen growth varies from very flat scaley, crusty organisms to more “leafy” and layered upright forms. You will not see a stalk and spore capsule as you do in mosses.

  • Lichens contribute to soil formation
  • Lichens are used by birds for nesting material
  • Lichen is used in dyes
  • Lichens are used in antibiotics and other medical preparations
  • Lichens have a role in atmospheric nitrogen production


Mushrooms, like moss, reproduce with spore rather than seed and have no vascular system. They are, however, organisms classified as fungi and not plants. Mushrooms are the reproductive fruiting part of fungi. The fruit carries the spore that will reproduce more mushrooms. The fleshy fruit of the fungus is sometimes edible and sometimes deadly. Mushrooms have no true stems or roots. They have no leaves and no chlorophyll to produce nutrients for growth. Spores are dropped from the mushroom and produce underground hair-like structures called mycelium. It is through the mycelium that nutrients are absorbed and from which new mushroom fruit is produced. Some mushrooms have gills under the cap and some have tubes that give the mushroom a spongy underside. Mushrooms grow in soil, on rotting wood, on live trees and on other organic matter.

  • A person who studies mushrooms is a mycologist
  • There are approximately 250 edible mushroom varieties in North America

References and Resources:

Online Introduction to the Biology of Animals and Plants, Michael McDarby 

Basic Moss Biology


This Old House: Growth on My Roof: Damaging or Just Ugly?

David Fischer’s American Mushrooms

1 comment

Guimo Pantuhan
Posted on Aug 17, 2011