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What is Sphagnum Moss?

Deanna Baranyi
Updated May 16, 2024
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Sphagnum moss is a genus of moss that can be found in a large variety of areas, from the arctic to the tropics; however, it is most common in the countries across the Northern Hemisphere, New Zealand, and South America. Although there are hundreds of species across the globe, the habitat where they are found is almost always wet and bog-like. In general, it grows best in soil that is acidic, and it will not grow in areas where the soil or water contains traces of the mineral lime. The leaves are small and grow in short tufts near the stem. It can range in color from green, to yellow, and even pink, brown, or red.

Thick clumps of sphagnum moss form a mat in watery areas called bogs, where it grows in patches with short roots. The moss absorbs water, similar to a sponge; however, the water can be extracted. As a result, the dried moss can be used to start fires.

People often have a difficult time telling the difference between sphagnum moss and sphagnum peat moss. Sphagnum moss is actually quite different than peat moss and is harvested separately. It is used primarily among florists to make items such as baskets, wreaths, and some floral arrangements. This moss is the portion of the plant that is alive and can be found on top of the bog. Alternatively, sphagnum peat moss is used to condition soil, especially for orchids. It is the dead part and is found in the lower portions of the bog.

Knowing the difference between regular sphagnum and sphagnum peat moss is important, since only the moss can transmit cutaneous sporotrichosis, a fungal disease. The condition causes ulcer-like lesions on the skin of its handlers. Since the moss grows in wet conditions, the fungus that causes the condition can grow and spread rapidly among its handlers. Luckily, there is a treatment for the disease, and people are encouraged to wear gloves and shirts with long sleeves when touching the moss.

In Tasmania, Australia, conservation guidelines have been set out that determine whether sphagnum should be harvested. For example, it has been determined that areas where the low average temperature in January is 50°F (10°C) or less; areas that are on basalt, limestone, floating moss beds; or those with a varying water table should not be harvested. In addition, in Tasmania, harvesters learned that the impact to the area can be lessened by keeping shrubs, allowing 30% of the sphagnum moss to remain on bare areas, and allowing five to ten years for regeneration to occur before harvesting can take place again.

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Deanna Baranyi
By Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her work. With degrees in relevant fields and a keen ability to understand and connect with target audiences, she crafts compelling copy, articles, and content that inform and engage readers.
Discussion Comments
By FirstViolin — On Oct 30, 2010

Does anybody know where you can find live sphagnum moss in the Raleigh area? I really want to use some fresh, live sphagnum moss for my bonsai tree landscaping, but all I can find are the compressed sphagnum moss cakes.

I know that they still work, but I really do prefer to keep everything live.

So does anybody know where to buy sphagnum moss in the Raleigh area, or if I could get some sphagnum moss on the internet that could be delivered live?

I would totally appreciate it, as would my bonsais!

By StreamFinder — On Oct 30, 2010

Sphagnum moss is also has a lot of benefits for gardeners. For example, many gardeners buy sphagnum moss for orchid planting.

It's really great for orchids, since it can absorb so much water, and also has a fairly low pH balance.

Potting an orchid in sphagnum moss can be a little tricky, but it's by no means undoable.

First, what you need to do is take your sphagnum moss and soak it until it fills up with water and expands. After it's all the way full, like a sponge, take it out of the water and wring it, like you would a dishcloth. You don't have to get it completely dry, but it shouldn't be dripping either.

Then take the moss and weave it loosely through the roots of the orchid. Loose is key -- if you make the moss too compressed, then your orchid roots will suffer.

After that, just put the moss and orchid in a pot like you would with a normal potting. Here you can compress it somewhat, but you still need to be sure that the roots can get some air.

When caring for an orchid planted in sphagnum moss, it's important to not let the moss ever dry out all the way -- if that happens, then you may have to take it out and start again.

But as long as you don't pack your moss in too tight, and keep the moss and orchid well watered, sphagnum moss can be the best base for an orchid.

By naturesgurl3 — On Oct 30, 2010

Did you know that sphagnum moss has also been used as a traditional medicine for years? It actually has a lot of legitimate health benefits.

Sphagnum moss is a natural antibacterial, and can be used as a natural cleansing agent for wounds. Of course, this works best if you have live sphagnum moss and make the antiseptic as needed, but it also works with dried sphagnum moss.

Another one of sphagnum moss's many uses is as an application for skin diseases. People have been using it as a topical application for psoriasis, acne, scabies, and hemorrhoids.

Of course, you should talk to your physician before using any kind of herbal remedy, but once you get the go-ahead from him or her, you should definitely give sphagnum moss a try. It's a safe and natural way to help your skin and kill germs, so what do you have to lose?

By medicchristy — On Oct 22, 2010

Sphagnum moss is native to Canada and the northeast part of the United States. It has also been found growing in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Alaska, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

As stated, the plant often floats on the surface of the water, creating a mat. This mat can be so dense that it has been known to support the weight of large animals, such as moose.

The amount of water that the moss soaks up is pretty amazing. A clump of live moss can soak up to 20 times its weight in water.

Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her...
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