Sphagnum Moss (Sphagnum sp.)

Sphagnum Moss 

Sphagnum Moss (Sphagnum sp.) is a nonvascular plant in a genus of over 150 species. The identification of a specific species may require the examination of the chlorophyllose cells (green cells) in the plant. The picture above shows Sphagnum Moss at the south end of French Hill Pond. This moss most closely resembles Sphagnum atlanticum (Atlantic sphagnum), the most common Sphagnum found in Maine. These plants belong to the Sphagnaceae Family and order Sphagnales. Sphagnum Moss is commonly known as Peat Moss. Technically, peat moss is the dried form of any of the species of this plant.

Mosses, being nonvascular plants, have no roots or veins to distribute nutrients to the cells in the plants. Sphagnum Moss is dependent upon wet areas for water and nutrients. The leaves of Sphagnum Moss are formed from two types of cells. The chlorophyllose cells contain chloroplasts, that is, cell parts containing chlorophyll that perform photosynthesis. These cells give Sphagnum Moss its color. The other cells are large cells called hyaline cells. The hyaline cells are clear and have a cellular structure but are essentially empty, storage cells. These cells make the moss appear white or transparent. They can store large quantities of water and nutrients. Some species can store a quantity of  water up to twenty times their dry weight. Sphagnum mosses must be washed with water and nutrients in order to survive. As chlorophyllose cells die. they leave the hyaline cells intact. The following photograph shows Sphagnum Moss growing in shallow water during the spring. Note the small size and dark green color with virtually no brown tips.

Sphagnum Moss in Water

Sphagnum Moss reproduces by division, fragmentation or by spores. The spores form as brown to black spots on the tips of stalks. The plant grows in layers, only the top layer is alive. The empty hyaline cells enable the plant to float on the water aiding photosynthesis. These plants absorb chemicals like calcium and magnesium and release hydrogen ions making its environment somewhat acidic. The following photograph shows Sphagnum Moss on marshy land in early spring. Note the lighter green and some brown tips. This colony will die, turn white and become peat moss. Given enough moisture, living Sphagnum Moss will grow above the peat moss.

Sphagnum Moss on Land

The dead form of this plant is very useful. It can be used as an insulation, plant growth medium, bedding for animals and a medium to process effluent from septic systems. It was used as a dressing for wounds during wartime. Peat moss is also used as a fuel. However, Sphagnum Moss can also be dangerous. When it floats on water, it may look like solid ground. Floating moss will not support the weight of a human. Sphagnum mosses can also contain a fungal disease, sporotrichosis. It should be handled with gloves and prevented from contact with skin scratches, abrasions and wounds.

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