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Common Name: Sphagnum Moss
Sphagnum cymbilifolium is a Evergreen Perennial up to 0.30 metres tall.
It is harvested from the wild for local use as a medicine and source of materials..
Northern Temperate zones.
Wet and boggy spots, preferably on peaty soils, mostly near heather, on mountains and on moors, forming large or small patches where there is sufficient lime-free water[
Plants only grow in clean acid water and dislike any form of manure[
]. They succeed in full sun or in partial shade[
Sphagnum moss grows on wet acid soils. Due to the nature of its habitat, the dead plants do not decompose as quickly as new dead material is produced. Thus there is a gradual build up of organic matter, which is known as sphagnum moss peat, and over large periods of time this can produce deposits many metres thick. The effect of sphagnum is to gradually fill in wet areas such as ponds and lakes, producing its own unique habitat for a variety of plants and animals. Sphagnum moss peat has found a wide range of applications, especially in horticulture, but this has lead to over-exploitation as large volumes of the peat have been extracted and the habitats destroyed. It can take centuries for the habitats to be restored, though often the extent of the damage precludes any restoration.
The whole fresh plant is antiseptic[
]. Because of its absorptive properties, it makes an excellent wound dressing and has been widely employed for this purpose in the past[
]. Its use is said to have saved the lives of thousands of soldiers in the First World War[
]. The moss is dried thoroughly before use[
A tar extracted from the decaying moss is antiseptic and is seen as a valuable external application in the treatment of eczema, psoriasis, pruritus and many other forms of skin diseases[
]. It is very beneficial for allaying irritation from insect bites and can also serve as a preventative to being bitten[
The fresh plant is permeated with minute tubes and spaces, resulting in a system of delicate capillary tubes that has the effect of a very fine sponge[
]. The dried plant can absorb up to 16 times its own weight of water and so has been found to be effective when used for surgical dressings, sanitary towels, babies nappies etc[
]. The moss can absorb moisture laterally, as well as from above, it holds onto all the moisture until fully soaked before releasing any[
]. Thus a dressing of the moss needs to be changed less frequently than cotton wool dressings[
]. Sphagnum moss also makes a good packing material for protecting delicate items in transit, it can be used as a cotton wool substitute and as a potting material for many species of orchid.
The semi-decomposed plant, excavated from bogs, is a first rate soil conditioner and is also used in seed and potting composts[
]. However, the extensive use of this product is leading to the destruction of many natural moss bogs, a delicate habitat that takes centuries to be restored. Small scale use of sphagnum moss peat is probably sustainable for local use but alternatives need to be sought for larger scale use.
The plant is easily propagated by division. The whole plant can be chopped up into small pieces and each piece will grow into a new plant[