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Sphagnum Moss

Sphagnum Moss
What is sphagnum moss? Where does it grow? Is it useful or does it pose health dangers? Let's find out.
Ishani Chatterjee Shukla
Most of us are familiar with sphagnum moss. You don't think so? probably know most species of this genus of moss by the name of peat moss or bog moss. Well, even if you've never heard of it, you must have seen it albeit without realizing what it's called - oh come on! Are you trying to tell me you've never seen those green, cushion like layers that sprawl across the surface of still water bodies or marshes during the rainy seasons? Well, that is sphagnum moss! This type of moss is generally known by the name of peat moss because it tends to exists in abundance in acidic peat wetlands and mires. Let's get to know this moss a little closely to find out everything about its life cycle, geographical distribution, conservation status, uses and health hazards.
What is Sphagnum Moss
A close scrutiny of the green vegetative layer that spans across marshes and wetlands would reveal that there are actually two distinct layers of vegetation involved. The upper, topmost surface that faces the sky is actually made up of a layer of live-growing moss cover, while the subsequent layers that lie underneath this surface layer is composed of decaying vegetative matter which is known as sphagnum peat moss. Sphagnum moss belongs to the phylum Bryophytes which is a lower strata of the plant kingdom that also includes lower plant forms like seaweed and algae.
Like all other mosses, protists and fungi, Sphagnum mosses undergo metagenesis. The haploid gametophyte releases archegonia (female gametes that produce eggs) and antheridia (male counterpart that produces sperms). The sperms swim across the water to access the archegonia and fertilize the eggs contained therein. The fertilized eggs are known as diploid zygote and these turn into sporophytes which, on maturity, manufacture and produce haploid spores. On germination, these spores become gametophytes and the entire cycle starts all over again.
Bogs and sphagnum mosses share a symbiotic relationship. Bogs and all vegetation that thrive there are completely dependent upon rainfall to derive nutrition. Sphagnum moss has an important role to play here, as it has the ability to trap and store air and rainwater within its cells that can be used by the rest of the bog after the rains have ceased. Let's take a look at some other interesting facts about sphagnum moss.
Sphagnum Moss Facts
Check out these interesting facts about sphagnum moss and you'll realize that this particular moss is much more than a bog-shroud.
  • The largest number of Sphagnum species occur in the Northern hemisphere including the Arctic tundra biome where they can be seen in the summer months growing over moist, soggy, summer marshes. A few species are also found in the Southern hemisphere, especially in Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, sub-tropical regions of Brazil and Tasmania.
  • Like all other species of moss, the sphagnum moss is also capable of dispersing its spores aerially.
  • Due to its ability to lock large amounts of moisture and air within its cells, peat moss is widely used as a soil conditioner for gardening and horticulture.
  • The absorbing capability and acidic composition of peat moss made it a popular dressing for wounds during both World Wars, since it acts as an anti bacterial agent and fungicide.
  • Peat moss is considered as an organic alternative to chlorine for purifying the water of swimming pools.
  • Mushroom grow well in peat moss conditioned soil.
  • Peat covered bogs, due to their acidic environment, are known to have been used for preserving food items like butter and lard.
  • Sphagnum moss is also useful in dissolving septic tank effluents where the soil is inappropriate for such activity.
  • Despite all its anti-bacterial and fungicidal properties (owing to its acidic environment), peat moss is often known to be a host to the Sporothrix schenckii fungus which can lead to Sporotrichosis on contact with broken skin.
  • There are about as many as 300 species of moss that compose of the sphagnum genus.
Sphagnum moss is often cultivated by gardeners and horticulturists for enlivening their bog gardens as well as to condition and replenish garden soil and act as a fertilizer to other flowering plants and ferns. Growing sphagnum moss is quite easy. The simplest way to cultivate sphagnum moss is to lay some dead peat at the bottom of a vessel full of water and laying a little live moss culture on top of it. Leave the vessel out in the rain and allow the sphagnum moss to grow and spread. This way, you may be able to create your very own bog garden.