If you are lost, the best thing to do is to stay
put. The more you move, the bigger the area
people have to search to find you. Try to make
yourself easy to see and hear. Stay calm and take
care of yourself.
Here’s why people used to say that about moss and
trees. Moss grows in cool, damp places. In the
northern hemisphere (the US, Canada, Europe,
Russia, China, etc.), the sun hits southern
hillsides and sides of things more than it hits
the northern sides of things. That’s because
Earth tilts a little. In the summer, the sun
looks high in the sky at noon. In the winter, it
is still hanging low in the south, even at noon.
The closer you are to the North Pole, the lower
the sun will look in winter.
We call small differences in temperature and
wetness “microclimates.” Micro means small.
Climate is like a long-term view of weather. It
means what a place is usually like, even though
weather changes all the time. For example, you
may live in a hot climate, but the place under a
tree will be cooler and wetter than the places
that have no shade. The tree makes a microclimate.
So if you looked at a bunch of trees in a forest
that has moss mostly on one side of trees, the
mossy side is probably north. But maybe that side
is under the shade of a slope or something, while
the north side is open to sunshine because of a
road. Then the north side would have less moss.
The north side MAY be more mossy. Or the whole
tree may be mossy. Or the tree may have no moss at
all. You can’t really count on the north side
always being more mossy. So if you’re lost, stay
where you are.
Look around your home or school. Can you find
microclimates that are warmer or cooler, wetter or
drier, or more or less windy?
If you are interested in how climate, soil, water,
and air affect living things, you may want to
Thanks for asking,
Great question, this is an idea that many outdoor
survival guides have dealt with for a very long
time. Traditionally, it was thought that moss
always grew on the north side of trees or rocks
because during the middle part of the day the sun
is shining from the south towards the north and
therefore the north side of tress and rocks see a
lot of shade, allowing for moss to grow. As it
turns out this is not always the case. Moss does
not actually care about north or south, what is
important for moss to grow is the presence of
water or moisture.
If you keep this idea in mind, then moss could
actually be useful in determining direction when
you are lost. You should never count on moss to
tell you anything about direction if it is growing
near the ground (water is constantly evaporating
from the ground creating a perfect environment for
moss growth) or high off the ground in areas where
there is actually dripping water.
However, if you were to find moss on a surface
that was not close to the ground or near areas
where water is physically running then there is a
really good chance the reason the moss is growing
is because the surface is staying moist throughout
the day. A good assumption in this case is that
the surface is staying moist because it is in the
shade most of the day, meaning it is likely
growing on the northern side of the surface.
So, yes, moss can tell direction is some cases,
but you must be aware of your surroundings in
order to take advantage of this tool because it
could also lead you in the wrong direction!
The following link takes you to the
natural navigator . This information gives a
rather good discussion - it is indeed all about
where the moisture is.
I would add to the third to last paragraphs
("The best technique is a two-step process. First
you need to find some moss, next it is important
to ask why that surface is moist.")... the
observation that, even after you take into
consideration the circumstances listed, you still
need to be alert to any other factor that reduces
evaporation or that introduces moisture that would
favor the growth of moss - on any side of the
Mosses like to grow in shaded areas (they
need dark, moist areas to survive). The heat
of the sun is always stronger on areas that face
South, so it is less likely for moss to grow on
the south facing areas.
HOWEVER, I am geologist (a scientist who studies
rocks) so I have done a lot of hiking to see
different rocks, and I have seen moss in a lot of
different places -- it is not a very reliable
source for navigation. Definitely better to
use a map and compass, or the direction of the
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