Sphagnum - Uses

Uses

Decayed, compacted sphagnum moss has the name of peat or peat moss. This is used as a soil conditioner which increases the soil's capacity to hold water and nutrients by increasing capillary forces and cation exchange capacity. This is often necessary when dealing with very sandy soil, or plants that need increased or steady moisture content to flourish. A distinction is sometimes made between sphagnum moss, the live moss growing on top of a peat bog, and 'sphagnum peat moss' (North American usage) or 'sphagnum peat' (British usage), the latter being the decaying matter underneath.

Dried sphagnum moss is also used in northern Arctic regions as an insulating material.

Anaerobic acidic sphagnum bogs have low rates of decay, and hence preserve plant fragments and pollen to allow reconstruction of past environments. They even preserve human bodies for millennia; examples of these preserved specimens are Tollund Man, Haraldskær Woman, Clonycavan Man and Lindow Man. Such bogs can also preserve human hair and clothing, one of the most noteworthy examples being Egtved Girl, Denmark. Because of the acidity of peat, however, bones are dissolved rather than preserved. These bogs have also been used to preserve food. Up to 2000-year-old containers of butter or lard have been found.

Sphagnum moss has also been used for centuries as a dressing for wounds. Since it is absorptive and extremely acidic, it inhibits growth of bacteria and fungi, so it is used for shipping seeds and live plants. However, see Health dangers below.

Peat moss is used to dispose of the clarified liquid output (effluent) from septic tanks in areas that lack the proper conditions for ordinary disposal means. It is also used as an environmentally friendly alternative to chlorine in swimming pool sanitation. The moss inhibits the growth of microbes and reduces the need for chlorine in swimming pools.

In New Zealand, both the species S. cristatum and S. subnitens are harvested by hand and exported worldwide for use as hanging basket liners, as a growing medium for young orchids, and mixed with other potting mixes to enhance their moisture retaining value.

Peat moss is also a critical element for growing mushrooms. The fungal mycelium grows in compost with a layer of peat moss on top, through which the mushrooms come out, a process called casing.

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