Long fibered sphagnum moss is on the left, and sphagnum peat moss is on the right
Sphagnum moss is different from sphagnum peat moss. Sphagnum peat moss is commonly used in the garden as a soil additive to increase drainage and aeration. Sphagnum moss is used in crafts and floral arrangements or as a liner for hanging planter baskets. Sphagnum moss may also be used in bog gardens because that is where the moss naturally grows.
Sporotrichosis is a fungal disease that has been associated with sphagnum moss. The disease occurs because of a fungus known as Sporothrix schenckii. The fungus enters broken skin and can cause tiny bumps and ulcers on the skin. In some cases, the fungus can infect other parts of the body if the fungus spores are inhaled. Sphagnum moss and other dried plant debris can act as a host to the fungus. Not every piece of sphagnum moss is infested. However, it is best to wear gloves and a mask when working with the moss if you use it to create a plant bog or living succulent wreath.
Sphagnum moss absorbs and retains any water that comes within reach. Two problems occur when using the moss for growing plants. The first is that the soil stays too moist for the plant because the sphagnum moss retains the moisture for long periods. The second problem is that the moss could dry out the soil around the root system, because it has absorbed the water from that section of soil.
According to Natural Life Magazine, peat bogs have a high acid content that acts as a natural preservative. The bogs act as an “irreplaceable record of climate, vegetation and human activity” that has preserved information for thousands of years, the magazine reports. The bogs where sphagnum moss is collected act as an ecosystem that are home to hundreds of species of plants and animals. The process of collecting the moss destroys these wetlands. This has a negative impact on the flora and fauna that live in the region. Sphagnum moss is not considered a renewable resource, so the damage to the bogs is permanent.
Alternatives to Sphagnum Moss
Several alternatives to sphagnum moss are available for growing plants. A popular one used for lining baskets is coir or shredded coconut husks. Other shredded materials that work well for planting include tree bark, straw, dried leaves or leaf compost. If you are using the moss to aerate the soil, consider using compost. Perlite works well for starting seeds and rooting cuttings. Look for products that are classified as byproducts, such as cocoa bean shells, as a safe alternative to sphagnum moss.