Menu Ireland Calls

Sphagnum Moss vs Sphagnum Peat Moss

One of the 'Ireland Calls' members 'Maureen' was and avid gardener and contributed many interesting articles to the Gardening section of the Ireland Calls message boards. The following is one such article by Maureen.

Don't confuse sphagnum moss with sphagnum peat moss. Sphagnum moss and sphagnum peat moss are not the same product. Sphagnum moss is used in the floral industry to line wire baskets and make wreaths. It is the LIVING moss that grows on top of a sphagnum bog. Sphagnum peat moss is used as a soil conditioner by gardeners. It is the dead material that accumulates in the lower levels of a sphagnum bog. Harvesters of the horticultural peat moss remove the top few inches of the live sphagnum moss before harvesting the peat from the lower levels of the bog.

There has also been some confusion about which of the two is actually the source of a fungal disease called Cutaneous Sporotrichosis, which according to Gerry Hood of the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association, is causing some concern within gardening circles. Sporotrichosis is a chronic infection identified by ulcerous skin lesions and is caused by coming in contact with the fungus, Sporothrix schenckii. Research has found no cases of sporotrichosis being transmitted in sphagnum peat moss. However, the fungus Sporothrix schenckii, does live in the top, living portion of the bog that is removed before peat harvesting.

Research done by the Mississippi State Forestry Commission, the Mississippi State Board of health, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center found that an outbreak of Cutaneous Sporotrichosis among Mississippi forestry workers in the 70's, was due to contaminated sphagnum moss. All of the infected persons had been in contact with pine seedlings packed in sphagnum moss or with sphagnum moss alone, and all lesions were on the hands and arms. The contaminated moss was believed to have come from a single source. This source probably received a lightly contaminated batch of sphagnum moss and stored this batch outside. Being outdoors in the moist, warm, Mississippi summer caused the fungus to increase and heavily contaminate the moss. Once it was realized that the batch was contaminated and was causing forest workers to get sick the rest of the batch was disposed of. The workers who contracted the disease were treated with orally administered potassium iodide. Another study of workers who contracted Cutaneous Sporotrichosis also showed it was caused by handling and packing with sphagnum moss.

Precautions are taken by the industry. To guard against epidemic sporotrichosis, nurseries store all sphagnum moss indoors, disinfect storage and packing buildings monthly, use precautions when handling moss, and regularly test recently received and stored moss for the fungus Sporothrix schenckii. Home gardeners using sphagnum moss should wear gloves and long sleeves to prevent coming in contact with the dried moss.

Remember, sphagnum moss is NOT the same as the safe, sphagnum peat moss you use as a soil amendment!