Sphagnum spp. (Photo: Laurie Campbell)
Bog mosses are Sphagnum species. They tend to grow on very wet, flat ground often forming carpets over the peat. It is usually bog mosses that you are sinking through when your feet sink into the bog! There are many different species of bog moss coming in a wide variety of colours from red and pink to orange and bright green. The individual species are difficult to tell apart but all the bog mosses have a similar structure with a dense head at the top and a single stem with lots of branches coming off in a spiral. They always grow in dense stands forming mats or mounds.
Bog moses are an essential part of peat formation. They absorb lots of water (up to 20 times their own weight) creating a waterlogged environment, and they also make the water around them acidic. In these acidic and waterlogged conditions the organisms that break down dead plant material cannot survive. The bog Moss continually grows upwards and the dead moss doesn’t decompose fully, it just gets gradually compacted as more dead moss builds up on top. Over hundreds of years this leads to the build-up of peat.
With absorbent and antiseptic properties bog mosses are ideal for using in dressings for wounds. During the 2nd Word War large amounts of bog moss were collected in Northern England, Scotland and Ireland for this purpose.
Sphagnum capillifollium (Photo: Laurie Campbell)
by Robin Reid