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Living moss graffiti - as seen in the Guardian Family section.

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Richard _001:
I heard about moss graffiti from Helen 1106, who has a recipe on her website here:
http://storiesfromspace.co.uk/data/html/menu.html

She also has some inspiring photos, though my suspicions of Photoshop trickery were confirmed when she told me they were actually "artists impressions"... still with a bit of effort it might be possibly to really grow moss like that! 

There are also some inspiring other images on there, and her "weed enclosure" provokes a fascinating debate about whether weeds are there to be treasured or ripped up!   

Egregius:
I'm bumping this old topic because through my research on the internet I found some interesting info to add.

So here's my short guide on moss graffiti:

Mosses are primitive plants that do not have roots, but sometimes attach themselves with rootlike appendages to the substrate. The get all their nutrients from the air, not the surface they're on, so they can grow in a lot of places.

By my knowledge there are 3 different methods for creating moss graffiti:

1- Transplanting existing moss, gluing it to the desired place using a water-resistant glue. Possibly ecological implications: harvest moss with care for where you're taking it from.
2- Growing your own moss on a large cheesecloth or a hard surface using a growth formula, and then gluing it to the desired spot.
3- Applying the growth formula to the spot directly, with or without bits of moss mixed in.

The first is actually the easiest to do well, and it has been done before.

BUT: smearing glue and 'dirt' on someone else's/a public building, is obviously illegal.
Option 2 is mostly the same as option 1, though more ecologically friendly, but requires patience and growing space.
Option 3 is easiest to get away with: if someone catches you smearing the recipe on a wall, you can always offer to immediatly wash it off with water, or they might not even see the harm in smearing buttermilk on the wall. But it's also the method with the least amount of succes (I don't know of any succesful experiments so far actually..)

So what are the growth recipes? Moss requires these things: a solid, hard surface (though some mosses grow on sand), but rough enough to be able to attach itself (unless it can attach to other bits of moss already established), shade (though some like the open sun), and most important of all: moisture (also the reason most mosses like shade better). But what's also important, is that the subsoil is acidic, preferably pH 5.5 or even 5, at least not higher than 5.5.

Hence the most used recipes for moss-growth-enhancement involves buttermilk (which is acidified milk nowadays). Possible other benefits is the acidity making the surface rougher, allowing moss to 'stick' in combination with the fat and milksugars being like glue for the moss-spores and bits of moss.

I've also seen used: yoghurt/cream (same as milk/buttermilk), added sugar (stickiness-factor? Food for establishing mosses being covered in it?), beer (maltose-sugar for same? Carbs for easy fertiliser?), and water to thin it (beware of chlorinated tapwater).

The most basic recipe is beer+a handful of moss, blend in kitchen-blender at slow speed till creamy consistency. Another recipe is a pint of buttermilk, handful of moss, teaspoon of sugar, and a pint of rain/distilled water, blend.

Paint this on surfaces using a brush.

Possible reasons for failure:
-lack of moisture/too much sun
-surface is too smooth (especially painted surfaces)
-surface too alkaline (fresh concrete is very alkaline, mortar is alkaline and makes surrounding stone more alkaline; city-pollution/acid-rain slowly makes it more acid though)
-IMPORTANT: if you use the blending method, know that not every moss can regrow from small bits! The most common forms of moss can however, but not spaghnum moss or other large mosses. These can only be reproduced from large, moisture-holding clumps on a good location on a good (acidic) subsoil...or via spores.

The best time of year for this would be early fall, or early spring, when there's plenty of rainstorms applying water to various (vertical) surfaces.


Guide for Lichens!

What you can do with moss, you can do with lichens! Lichens simply require a LOT more patience. They grow only 1 to 5 mm a year!
(and obviously method 1 and 2 don't apply here, unless you have a really abundant source of lichens you can harvest and blend with something sticky yet not lichen-killing).
Lichens are great for making stone look ancient and weathered. You could add more character to your environment by making bland stone/concrete lichen-covered.

Lichens are not like mosses; they're symbionts consisting of a blue-green algae, and a fungus. Some consist of a cyanobacteria and a fungus, or even algae+bacteria+fungus. Not all species can form lichens like that, they're usually somewhat speaed for the job; most of the individual algae/fungi can't be found solitary. The algae produce the food from CO2 and what small bits they dissolve from the surface, the cyanobacteria can fix nitrogen, and the fungi create protection, some solvents to dissolve the substrate and establish themselves, and occasionally help spread the others via spores.

Lichens vary a lot in their requirements. They need a solid surface, but some like acidity, some alkalinity, and some need abundant nitrogen and hence grow better roadside. There are a few recipes to be smeared on surfaces known to work:
-cow manure mixed with water
-horse urine
-rice water (probably not with salt)
-milk/buttermilk/yoghurt/cream (again!)
-Formula 29

Explanation: cow manure/urine makes surfaces more acid, it contains urea aka a form of nitrogen, and they all allow algae/fungi spores to stick better. The ricewater I don't know, but the Japanese, who love their ancient-looking zen-gardens, use it. Most of these if applied to a surface instantly make it look more weathered, so it's a succes either way if you were going for that. ;)

If you add a spoonful of scraped lichen to your mixture, you can speed things up a lot, or you can wait for spores to establish themselves on the spot. If you add lichen, remember to take them from the same kind of micro-environment as the formula is applied to. E.g. if you're using it on concrete on a sunny dry location, take lichens from stony surfaces in another sunny dry location.

One last alternative: if a surface is already covered with dirt and lichens, you can apply some inverse graffiti by selectively bleaching away the lichens/mosses/algae from a surface. Like this. I think that's a shame though, I've come to appreciate the hardy as willing to grow anywhere.

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Finally, my own experiences:
-I haven't tried anything specifically lichen-related yet, but I'm going to try and paint something using different coloured lichens and some milk on a tile. Gonna take some patience..
-I tried moss graffiti using method 3, buttermilk, sugar, water and alcohol-free beer.  Oh and every type of moss I could find; I didn't know which types could be vegetatively propagated yet. It's the wrong weather for it, so I'm forced to spray rainwater on my buildings walls daily :P
I tried it two weeks ago, and I still don't see anything except for a brown sludge clinging to the bricks where I applied it ;D
I poured some of the recipe's remnants into a frequently-watered pot in my bedroom, and that's slowly turning green, so there's a chance it might work after all. There's also a chance the walls need more milk first to get the pH level right.

GreenGTA:
That is amazing!!!

Nisaba:
What a great idea! Trouble is, I love buttermilk (and rarely have any to spare), also our climate isn't really damp enough except in selected plates, I suppose I could use this method to increase the spread of the precious fragments of moss I have growing on the broken concrete path near my laundry ...

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