Sphagnum Moss (Sphagnum capilifolium (red) & Sphagnum papillosum (yellow))
Sphagnum moss can be found growing in damp or wet places such as beside streams or in damp woodlands. A common place to find Sphagnum on raised bogs or blanket bogs.
Different kinds of Sphagnum mosses grow at different rates, some as little as a few millimetres a year! When they die they don't decompose because the ground is both wet and acidic. Waterlogged soil contains little oxygen which means that the bacteria and fungi that naturally break down dead plant material cannot exist. The Sphagnum mosses pile up and get pressed together eventually forming the soil we know as peat. This is a very slow process taking from 7000 to 10000 years to produce a layer of peat 7-10 metres thick.
A single Sphagnum moss plant is very tiny, growing close to many other types of Sphagnum plants, all providing support for each other. The different types of Sphagnum plants can be different shades of reds, oranges and greens and are adapted to different conditions. Some plants can survive in pools and very damp hollows and others in reasonably dry conditions.
Bog surfaces are formed by an accummulation of Sphagnum moss floating on dead, water soaked material which may be several metres deep. Sphagnum moss acts like a sponge and can stay wet long after any neighbouring soil has dried out. It can soak up more than eight times its own weight in water.
Mosses do not produce flowers or seeds like other plants do, but they produce fruiting bodies called capsules which contain spores. When the spores are ripe the capsule bursts open spraying the spores out into the air. These spores then grow into new Sphagnum plants.
Although bogs provide an essential wetland habitat for many birds and animals, Sphagnum itself is rarely eaten instead it provides a habitat and shelter for microscopic organisms. These organisms cling to the moss providing food for insects that live in the bog. These insects are a food source of birds and small animal such as frogs that live on the bogs. Birds are known to nest on the bogs and this attracts mammals such as otters and badgers, which will eat the eggs and chicks.
Sphagnum moss has been used by humans for many years for many different reasons. It has a mildly antiseptic property and has been used to dress wounds it is also used by gardeners in potting mixes as its antibiotic properties reduce the risks of fungal infections and it keeps seeds and plants moist. It is also used for the lining of hanging baskets.
People also use the peat from the bogs. Since Roman times it has been used as fuel for heating and cooking and for roofs of houses. Since the 1960's peat has been used to make garden compost, leading to a huge areas of bog being destroyed.
Image copyright © 2007 Hiraethog
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