Architecture and Design

Need more green in your life? It may be time to bring moss indoors

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2017, 9:29am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2017, 8:01pm

Just like pests of the creepy, crawly variety, green growing stuff that feeds on moisture is the last thing you’d want to find in your home.

Summers in Hong Kong can mean months of search and destroy of the mould and mildew which is the curse of our climate. Now, we’re being told that another member of the fungus family – lichen, the kind that reindeer eat – and moss, its plant cousin, are actually good for us.

While prolonged exposure to mould and mildew in the home is linked to chronic health problems such as asthma, studies have found no harm in having a moss garden indoors.

According to researchers at Canada’s University of Guelph, living mosses are an ideal medium for an indoor biofilter. Careful selection of moss species, they say, may reduce VOCs in the air (the chemicals emitted from many paints, glues and certain types of furniture). Mosses can also produce antibiotic compounds and may actually inhibit the growth of biofilm, a form of bacteria which adheres to surfaces.

The notion of house plants cleaning the indoor air is not new. In the early 1980s, a study at NASA – the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration – concluded that certain plants have the ability to remove formaldehyde from air in a closed environment, even though moss wasn’t named as one of them, and you’d also need a lot of them (eight to 15 spider plants, for instance) to continuously purify the air in a home.

Though green walls are sprouting all over urban exteriors, it’s harder for gardens to thrive inside buildings. Plants need sunshine, and water, and usually soil, which is an inconvenient combination for indoor application.

It took the Japanese to show how it could be done, by perfecting the technique of moss art.

The 2011 book Mosses, My Dear Friends, by Hisako Fujii, is credited with kindling fascination for a plant aligned with Japan’s wabi-sabi concept – being, as moss is, hardy, slow growing, and beautiful despite imperfections.

People are always looking for greenery which is low maintenance, and this is the answer
Richard Woods, director, Evergreen Walls

In Hong Kong, Wah King Garden Arts is selling indoor installations of Polarmoss, a lichen growing wild in the forests of Finland, where it’s the natural fodder of reindeer.

Sean Man Kin-shun started importing the product as an indoor green wall solution. “People always want green walls indoors but they struggle for light, are hard to water, and require a lot of maintenance. Often, the plants die,” he said.

Moss, however, needs no light or water, surviving on humidity in the air.

The moss is dyed with minerals into 16 colours. Polarmoss Flex Element comes as 40cm x 60cm panels (HK$1,300 each) which can be cut to shape, arranged into patterns (even wrapping around curved surfaces) and attached to the wall by fastener tape. Other options are a spherical shape which hangs from the roof; or in frames which pivot. The lichen can also be sculpted into a company’s logo.

The Polarmoss “can last forever”, Man said. It also helps clean the air by trapping and holding harmful air-born substances.

He cites product testing by Korea’s Ministry of Environment which showed a reduction in toxins including ammonia (99.6 per cent removed), acetaldehyde (59.2 per cent) and formaldehyde (85 per cent) based on 10kg of Polarmoss (eight pieces of Flex Elements) per cubic metre of space.

We are lightweight in our picking method and leave the area in good condition – this is what we call soft connection to nature
Janne Alatalo, managing director, Polarmoss

The popularity of moss in interior design has seen moss sourced from Norway become the fastest-growing sector for Sydney, Australia-based Evergreen Walls. Its product, Evergreen Moss, comes as 300mm x 300mm modular panels (AUD$99 each) affixed to an aluminium panel, which can be flat or curved, and installed using adhesive or screws.

Director Richard Woods endorses the product’s positive effects in the indoor environment, adding that moss is perfect for an interior palette based around Greenery, Pantone’s 2017 colour of the year.

“People are always looking for greenery which is low maintenance, and this is the answer,” he says.

But does anyone worry what the reindeer will eat, if we go gathering up their food source in order to beautify our homes?

Janne Alatalo, managing director of Polarmoss, explains that moss is hand-picked in eight-year cycles, only 10-15 per cent being harvested from the area each time. This gives the moss time to grow in a sustainable way and keep the forest ground in good shape.

Besides, reindeer don’t live on Hailuoto, a 200 km-square island in the Baltic Sea, where the company is situated.

“We are lightweight in our picking method and leave the area in good condition – this is what we call soft connection to nature.”