History of Moss Balls

Historical Context

Acton E . 1916. On the structure and origin of “Cladophora balls”. New Phytologist 15: 1–10.

Marimo moss balls are historically found in the cold freshwater lakes of Northern Europe and Japan. The first English language documentation of Moss Amigos was in 1916, by scientist Dr. Elizabeth Acton. They are known in the European scientific community as “cladophora balls.” Initially, they were noticed more prominently in Scottish and Irish lakes; however they were also found in different places in Northern Europe as well.

Even though there was a basic grasp on the anatomy of this curious plant, they would exhibit interesting behaviors (such as unpredictably floating and sinking) that scientists were not able to comprehend for another 100 years. 20th century Europeans saw these moss balls as merely a natural phenomenon and there is no documented cultural reverence for our little green friends.

In Japan, they are known as "marimo" and are a protected species because of their high status as a sacred natural artifact of the indigenous Ainu people. During the first week of each October, they hold a three day festival as a way to protect the marimo and honor the environment. 


Some facts about the marimo in Japan:

  • Volcanic activity formed Lake Akan 6,000 years ago.
  • It takes up to 100 years (!) for marimo to grow to their full size, typically growing at a rate of about 5mm per year.
  • Marimo in Lake Akan are by far the largest in the world, growing to a diameter of nearly 12 inches.

Unfortunately, marimo moss balls have been disappearing from over half of the lakes all around the world. According to the American Institute of Biological Sciences, scientists found that across the 238 lakes in Northern Europe and Japan where these moss balls were originally found, less than 50% remain. 

To respect these traditions and the natural environment, our Moss Amigos are carefully cultivated in the United States.

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