Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Kokedama: The Japanese Moss Ball

When I lived in Japan, I had this little plant that I absolutely loved. It was planted not in a pot, but in a ball of soil covered in moss. When I left the country I was set on learning to make one of these Japanese ball plants, since of course customs restrictions prevented me from taking the plant home with me. Years later I've finally gotten around to looking into this, and here is my little experiment in kokedama, the Japanese moss-ball plant.


I (more or less) followed these instructions on the Design Sponge blog, using a baby fern and moss collected from the laneways of Brunswick. Judging from the variety of beautiful kokedama on Sala Sala's blog from the UK, kokedama can be made with a wide range of shade-loving plants.

I want the plant to sit on a plate like the one I had in Japan, not be suspended in a "string garden", so I've wrapped the moss ball in cotton thread instead of twine, with the idea that once the moss adheres itself more permanently to the soil, it can be removed. If it takes a long time for the moss to connect fully to the ball, the natural fibre can also be left to disintegrate over time.

So far so good! It seems happy with its indoor home so far.

At first I wasn't sure what these moss-ball plants were called, although kokedama translates literally as moss-ball (苔 koke: moss,  玉 dama: ball). While trying to find out more about this technique, I came across another interesting moss ball called marimo (毬藻). Marimo are completely different from kokedama, but fascinating: they are naturally occurring underwater algae colonies that form into perfect spheres in certain conditions in a few specific lakes in northern Japan, Iceland, Scotland and Estonia. While you can apparently buy small hand-rolled "marimo" algae balls from souvenir stands in these locations, the natural marimo form as rotating, free-floating algae colonies without any sort of kernel of foreign material at the centre of the ball. They grow about 5cm per year up to 20-30cm in diameter. Marimo comes from the Japanese word for a (toy) ball (毬 mari) and the word for underwater plants such as algae and seaweed (藻 mo).

They look a little bit familiar to me...

Marimo in Lake Akan, Japan (image from Japan Guide website)

I would love to see these in real life! But for now, I'll keep going with my kokedama experiments... I've got a few more in the works!


  1. Very cool! Unfortunately I have a bad record with indoor plants. . .

    1. Me too! The one I bought in Japan was very low maintenance. It stayed alive and well for two years (and was healthy when I left it). It only required soaking every two weeks. I think these might need a little more care to get started, but hopefully they'll settle into a routine of periodic neglect!

  2. did you use akadama soil? if so where did you find it? i have been searching but cant seem to find a place that sells it

  3. Hi, I got here through Pinterest and a Google search. The image of your kokedama ball is there and very pretty, I might add.
    Here is a website w very easy instructions for making a kokedama garden using a florist foam ball (cut out in middle) instead of the tricky clay-ey soil traditionally used, and Christmas moss, which can be found sold in sheets. It tells you the kinds of plants best suited as well.
    They say kokedama has become quite the craze, whatever, I was immediately attracted to its aesthetic beauty, and I would like to make one.

    Hope this helps!

  4. Oh, and I even found pictures of very large balls with small saplings which were suspended from the ceiling (on wires?).

    Maidenhair fern, nasturtiums, other ferns look like lovely possibilities for a kokedama for what I'd like, one on a beautiful saucer like you made.