The most common question asked by the readers is “Are sphagnum peat moss and sphagnum moss the same?”
There are many different types of peat mosses used in Canada. Some of them are called Canadian Spruce (Picea glauca), Canadian Hemlock (Corylus americana) and Canadian Pine (Pinus sylvestris). These three species make up the majority of all peat mazes found throughout North America.
There are other varieties of peat mosses such as Siberian Spruce (Picea sibirica), Black Spruce (Picea nigra), White Spruce (Picea alba) and Douglas Fir (Abies lasiocarpa). They do not have the same characteristics as the above mentioned species. The following table lists some of these peat mosses.
Type Species Common Name Description Spruce Picea glauca Pinus glauca, Picea nigra, Corylus americana, C. americana, C. virginiana, etc.
Commonly called as Korean Pine Pinus koraiensis, Picea koraiensis, Picea jezoensis, and P. jezoensis Mostly cultivated in Korea and China. Rarely available to the horticultural industry.
In effect, sphagnum mosses are a type of peat mosses found in Canada; however, their physical characteristics and qualities do differ. They all share the same growth requirements.
In certain cases, you can use any type of peat moss found in Canada for your gardening needs.
When propagating plants, you should never mix both peat mosses and sphagnum mosses together due to their varying physical qualities. One part peat moss and one part sand are the correct proportions of soil components when growing orchids.
Sphagnum mosses are used extensively in the horticultural industry. It is commonly used as a top dressing, a growing medium and as a soil conditioner. As a top dressing, it retains moisture and provides protection to the roots of your plants.
It also prevents weeds from growing and decreases erosion. As a growing medium, it allows the roots of your plants to breathe. It drains excessive water and prevents the growth of mould and bacteria. As a soil conditioner, it breaks up clay soils, hard pans and acid soils. It also balances the pH level of your soil.
Caring for your sphagnum mosses is easy. You can spray them with a fine mist of water every couple of days to keep them hydrated. They like sunlight to partial shade and never allow them to dry out completely.
If this happens, they will die. You can propagate them by dividing them into smaller clumps and re-planting them in your garden.
“Sphagnum moss” is also called “bog moss”, “peat moss”, “peat”, “cotton grass” and “moss peat”. It is not a true moss but a member of the lycopsida or “lycopods” plant classification. It grows in acidic bogs and swamps across the world.
The largest supply of moss peat is from Canada.
Sphagnum Moss is made up of hundreds of tiny leaves that grow around a central stem to form a compact rosette. It reproduces by the division of its rosettes and spreads rapidly. It can also spread from seed, although this is very rare.
It has the ability to reproduce both sexually and asexualy. The leaves consist of tiny cells and as water and nutrients are absorbed, the cells swell and push apart the leaf tissue. In fact, if you were to look at a cross-section of a single leaf under a microscope, you would see tiny little bubbles. This is where the “peat moss” in its name comes from since the bubbles look like tiny little pebbles or peat.
Most of the plants that grow in bogs are short and very dense, but the leaves of a sphagnum plant absorb so much water that they can grow over 1 metre tall (3 feet). The stems have no woody tissue so they rarely stand more than a few years. New stems are continually being formed underground and when one gets damaged or dies, it is quickly replaced.
Sphagnum plants do not have flowers but small cones that resemble little pyramids made of tiny pollen-filled capsules. The male and female cones grow on separate plants although they mature at slightly different times so pollination can occur if the wind is blowing the right direction. There is little fruit, just a few seeds in each cone that are spread by wind, water or animals.
Sphagnum plants are food for very few animals since they contain a lot of cellulose, a type of carbohydrate that is not very digestible. They do provide shelter and moisture for certain insects, spiders and other small animals that can’t get enough water from the very acidic bogs in which they live.
Sphagnum bogs act as a sort of sponge for certain areas. They help prevent topsoil erosion and can act as a barrier against flooding. They slowly release water back into the atmosphere through a process called transpiration.
As the sun warms the leaves, water is drawn inward and up from the roots to the stem and the leaves where it becomes vapor. This provides a very slow but steady source of moisture in some areas that otherwise get very little precipitation.
Sphagnum bogs have been disappearing at an alarming rate over the last century since the advent of modern farming. Sphagnum moss can be harvested without damaging or killing the plant and sold to companies that use it as a growing medium for plants. It is also used in a wide variety of first aid products such as bandages, dressings and even wound dressings.
It has also been used in food products such as chewing gum, soft drinks and candy.
Other species of moss are used to make fabric, wall paper, insulate cabins and even for thatch roofs. By weight it is about three times more efficient as insulation than fiberglass. Moss holds water like no other plant and can be woven into waterproof cloth that is softer than silk.
There are hundreds of species of moss but only a few dozen have the desired properties for these products. Some common types of moss used for these purposes are reindeer moss, wintergreen, beech, horsetail, cave and rock.
Most of the worlds Sphagnum moss is found in bogs in Canada, Ireland, Russia and the U.S. The largest area of Sphagnum growth is in Minnesota with other major sites in Oregon, Washington and New York.
Most of the harvesting is done by hand since the fragile plants are easily damaged.
Sphagnum moss has also been used for insulation in the aerospace industry, stationery, paint, artificial tears, wound dressings and even as a clarinet reed. In the case of the reed in musical instruments it needs to be specially prepared to make sure that the middle is more porous than the outer layers so that it plays with the proper tone.
To prepare reeds for clarinets, the moss is gathered year round in Scandinavia and dried. Strips are then cut from the dried moss and soaked in water until ready to be used. They can be kept for years when stored away from direct light since it does not attract insects.
Lately, however, there has been some concern that harvesting Sphagnum moss at such a rapid rate might be doing more harm than good to the environment since we do not know exactly what role it plays in bogs and other ecosystems. Any stress to one part of an ecosystem can have unforeseen consequences to other parts that might be disastrous.
Bog Iron Ore
In North America, bogs are also a source of iron ore, which was widely used by Native American tribes and colonists in the production of tools, weapons and household items. Colonists found out that burning the starchy peat underneath the bogs cause the underlying clay to form into layers creating a flat surface perfect for certain types of construction.
Natural mounds of peat were also found to contain quantities of iron that could easily be extracted by simply digging down and cutting away the peat around the sides. These mounds were found all over New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.
The problem with digging into a peat bog is that it doesn’t take long before it starts to leak. As more peat is removed the less support there is which causes large sections of the bog to collapse into the hole. This wasn’t really a problem for the Native Americans since they would move on to another area but it was a major problem for the colonists who needed to build on solid ground.
The Dutch colonists were probably the first to attempt to solve this problem by building with wood since they had ready access to it from across the Hudson River. As more people arrived, the demand for wood increased and as a result trees became scarce.
The next material used was brick since it could stand up under its own weight better than wood. The problem with brick is that it needs to be fired in a kiln which requires a lot of wood. As the colonies grew even more, more and more demand was placed on trees until there were none left.
The solution to the wood shortage was to start building with stone, but since this took expertise not everyone was able to do it. These masons were in great demand and they formed the first trade unions not to mention they also earned higher wages than most other workers.
The problem with stone is that it is heavy and takes more than just weight to keep a building standing. The stone needs to be bound together in a way that it won’t easily fall down since the mortar and bricks can only do so much by themselves. This requires a deeper understanding of how to build with stone, which most colonists didn’t have.
The next problem the colonists had to contend with was their lack of wood for ships which caused their trading abilities to be limited. They needed a material they could use for both building and shipbuilding that was common throughout the colonies.
That material was iron ore, and the best source for it was in the swamps of New Jersey, where it had historically been used by Native American tribes for centuries. The problem with iron however, is that it is not as easy to extract as gold or silver. It is also not particularly useful in its raw form and must undergo a complex process in order to make it suitable for building with.
When the Dutch first arrived in New York they started mining for bog iron in the swamp lands of Bergen and Passaic counties as well as on Staten Island. They would cut down trees in a particular area, dig down deep enough to reach the peat underneath and then set it alight. The peat would burn for as long as was required to extract the iron which could be several months.
When they had enough iron they would move on to another area and start again.
The problem with this method is that it required a lot of manpower which was in limited supply. It also took a lot of time and even more wood. The biggest problem with the Dutch method was that they didn’t really have a good way of smelting the iron once they dug it out of the swamp.
This meant that a lot of it was unusable.
In the 1660’s, a Welshman by the name of Hugh Gwyn came to America and started mining for iron in the bog lands near modern-day Cranford, New Jersey. The technology at the time could only make wrought iron which was very useful for things like tools, mechanical parts and other items where strength wasn’t a primary concern but it wasn’t suitable for building with.
What became known as the Bog Iron Mine operated on a relatively small scale until 1675 when it was purchased by John Fenwicke who was an experienced iron master from England. Fenwicke knew that in order to make a profit he would have to come up with a way of mass producing iron. He realized that in order to do this he needed access to a large amount of wood so he cut down most of the trees in the area and then began building wooden dams in the swamp.
He would then drain the water slowly so that his workers could dig down to the peat below and extract the iron ore.
Fenwicke found a partner in Robert Grace who had recently received a land grant from the British Crown in New Jersey. He began mining the iron on a much larger scale than anyone else in the area and by 1681 he was shipping two tons of iron to England every month. The problem was most of it was undesirable low quality iron.
It became apparent that the only way this operation would be profitable was if they could come up with a way of producing better quality iron.
In order to do this, they decided to construct America’s first blast furnace which was a huge undertaking and demanded an enormous amount of capital. They approached the Royal Court in London with their project but were denied funding. It just wasn’t a high priority and the Crown felt that the money wouldn’t be well spent on such an endeavor.
Robert Grace knew that the only way this project was going to succeed was with help from the Royal Court so in 1683 he traveled all the way to London and pleaded his case before the King and the Royal Court. He managed to convince them that if he could build the first blast furnace in America and produce good quality iron then this would be of great benefit to England as they would no longer need to pay for it from oversea’s. They agreed to fund half of the project.
Sources & references used in this article:
Swine manure nitrogen conservation in storage using sphagnum moss by SF Barrington, RG Moreno – Journal of environmental quality, 1995 – Wiley Online Library
Uptake of metal ions by nonliving biomass derived from sphagnum moss and water hyacinth roots by Y Hao, AL Roach, GJ Ramelow – Journal of Environmental Science …, 1993 – Taylor & Francis
Removal of hexavalent chromium using sphagnum moss peat by DC Sharma, CF Forster – Water Research, 1993 – Elsevier
The kinetics of sorption of divalent metal ions onto sphagnum moss peat by YS Ho, G McKay – Water research, 2000 – Elsevier
The kinetics of sorption of basic dyes from aqueous solution by sphagnum moss peat by YS Ho, G McKay – The Canadian Journal of Chemical …, 1998 – Wiley Online Library