Sphagnum palustre | Blunt-leaved Bog-moss



Conservation status

Future ProspectsN/A
Overall  Assessment of Conservation StatusInadequate
Overall Trend in Conservation StatusStable
*All E.U. Sphagnum species  are identified as requiring assessment under the Habitats Directive. Guidelines on reporting for the Habitats Directive indicate that these species are required to be reported on as a group, unless a member state is of the opinion that individual species within the group may require special attention. In the Article 17 Habitats Directive reporting for the period 2007-2012 none of the named Sphagnum species of the Habitats Directive occurring in Ireland were identified as requiring special attention.

The Conservation Status in the table above is then for the Sphagnum genus in Ireland rather than for the individual species.

Sources: NPWS 2013; European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity.

IUCN Conservation Status
Ireland (1)Least Concern*
Europe (2)Not evaluated
Global (2)Not evaluated

* In the 2012 Ireland Red List No.8: Bryophytes, the assessment appears as for Sphagnum palustre var. palustre which is the variety found in Ireland. Records for Sphagnum palustre var.centrale, which generally occurs in northern Scandinavia but also rarely in mountainous areas in central Europe, have been made in Britain (Smith A.J.E.2004; Hill M.O. et al 1992). Sphagnum palustre var.centrale has not so far been recorded in Ireland (Holyoak D.T. 2003).

Sources: (1) Lockhart, N., Hodgetts, N. & Holyoak, D. 2012; (2) The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2.

Legal status

Protected by the following legal instruments:

  • Habitats Directive [92/42/EEC] Annex V

Native status


Species Biology


All members of the Sphagnum genus are distinguished from other moss species by the combination of the following characteristics;

  • The absence of rhizoids in the gametophyte, and the presence of groups of spreading and / or pendent branches (these groups referred to as fascicles) arranged at intervals along the main stem.
  • As well as chlorophyllose cells (chlorocysts) Sphagnum leaves have adapted large dead cells, 'hyaline' cells, that allow Sphagnum species plants to retain water in relatively large amounts.
  • The sporangium lacks the peristome seen in many other moss genera.
  • Rather than the seta (stalk) seen in other mosses, in Sphagnum species the spore bearing capsule is borne on a pseudopodium.
  • The top end of the plant, where new fascicles are formed, contain many young compact fascicles which give Sphagnum species a distintive 'mop-head' look. This terminal head is termed a capitulum.
  • The lack of a leaf mid-rib or 'costa'.

Sphangnum palustre is one of a group of Sphagnum species (Section Sphagnum) in which the stem has a wide outer cortex to inner pith ratio (outer cortex occupies about 1/3 or more of the diameter).

  • Section Sphagnum species plants, in well-lit, good growing conditions will measure over 2.5cm in diameter, including fascicles.
  • The branch leaves in Section Sphagnum are noticably concave with blunt, hooded apices.

  • Branch leaves are most often over 1mm wide.

  • The stem leaves are rather tongue shaped.
Within this group Sphagnum palustre will have, at least at certain times of the year, red or pink colouration in the capitulum or spreading leaves.Colouration may be complete or appear as flecking or spotting.

  • Shoots to 25cms long.
  • Centre of capitulum may often be pale pink, brick-red (never crimson red) or brown in contrast to spreading branches which may be paler or even of a different colour, especially in autumn and winter.

  • Sphagnum palustre can also be largely or entirely one colour- green, yellowish-brown or buff.

  • Two (sometimes 3) spreading branches per fascicle, two to four pendent  branches.
  • Spreading branches towards the outer edge of the capitulum and just below the capitulum are often elongated and tapered. Lower branch leaves also, generally, tapered.

  • In very wet or very shaded conditions the lower part of branch leaves may spread from branch by up to 45°, upper parts even more giving a recurved appearance to leaves.

  • In the field, and depending on growing conditions and time of year, Sphagnum palustre could be confused with other species (particularly Sphagnum affine and Sphagnum papillosum ) and microscopic examination will be necessary. Examination should focus on such characteristics as the presence / absence of comb-fibrils on the inner wall of branch leaf cells and the shape of chlorocysts in the branch leaves.
  • Capsules occasional.
  • This is a quite common Sphagnum species in Ireland.

Sources: Atherton, I., Bosanquet, S., Lawley, M.,  2010; Lockhart, N., Hodgetts, N. & Holyoak, D. 2012a; Frey, W. et al 2006; Smith, A.J.E. 2004


Sphagnum palustre is very tolerant of both shading and of moderately nutrient enriched, less acid environments.

Source: Atherton, I., Bosanquet, S., Lawley, M.,  2010.

Habitats may include but are not necessarily limited to;

  • Bogs (PB)
  • Poor fen and flush (PF2)
  • Transition mire and quaking bog (PF3)
  • Wet Heath (HH3)
  • Montane Heath (HH4)
  • Wet grassland (GS4)
  • Oak-birch-holly woodland (WN1)
  • Wet pedunculate oak-ash woodland (WN4)
  • Bog woodland (WN7)
  • Highly modified / non-native woodland (WD) On wet or flushed moderately nutrient enriched to acid soils.
  • Drainage ditches (FW4)
  • Eroding / upland rivers (FW2) Bank-side

Sources: Atherton, I., Bosanquet, S., Lawley, M.,  2010; Rodwell, J.S. (ed.) 1991; Hill, M.O. et al 1992; Fossitt, J.A. 2001.


Classic alternation of generations with diploid sporophyte and haploid gametophyte generations. In mosses the haploid gametophyte is the longer lived and obvious plant seen in the field.

The sporophyte is the capsule which is borne on a pseudopodium produced from tissue of the gametophyte.

Fertilization of female gametes by male gametes produces the diploid sporophyte. Meiosis of spore mother cells produce haploid spores, which are disseminated when the capsule opens. Spores germinate into a filamentous 'protonema' which will eventually produce the familiar moss gametophyte.

Sources: Porley, R. Hodgetts N. 2005.

Sphagnum species can also spread vegetatively through the development of new stems from branches and may also spread via plant fragments.

Threats faced

In the Article 17 Habitats Directive reporting for the period 2007-2012 no current threats were listed for this species. In that reporting period the named Sphagnum species of the Habitats Directive occurring in Ireland were given an 'Overall Assessment of Conservation Status' of 'Inadequate' due to;

  • 'The poor conservation status of the peatland habitats within which the majority of Sphagnum species occur'.
Source: NPWS 2013.

Conservation actions

In the Article 17 Habitats Directive reporting for the period 2007-2012 no Conservation Measures in place or in the process of being implemented during the period were listed for this species.

Source: NPWS 2013.


World distribution(GBIF)

European records appear concentrated in Britain and Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Poland and the Netherlands. Records also from Iceland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, northern Spain.

Records also from eastern North America and western North America, Japan and the north of South America.

Accuracy of world distribution shown in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) map below will be constrained by, amongst other factors, data held but not shared by countries and organizations not participating in the GBIF.

Irish distribution

Widespread and locally abundant.

Temporal change

Records submitted to Data Centre in 2023

The following map is interactive. If you would prefer to view it full screen then click here.

How can you help

The National Biodiversity Data Centre is trying to improve our knowledge of the distribution of Sphagnum palustre in Ireland. Should you observe this species, please submit sightings to add to the database. Detailed observations will assist us gaining a better insight into where the species is most abundant in Ireland and we might also be able to detect regional variations. Please submit any sightings and photographs at:

All records submitted online can be viewed on Google Maps – once checked and validated these will be added to the database and made available for conservation and research.

Further information

For further information contact Dr. Liam Lysaght



Atherton, I., Bosanquet, S., Lawley, M.,  2010. Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland a field guide. British Bryological Society.

Fossitt, J.A. 2001 A Guide to Habitats in Ireland. The Heritage Council.

Frey, W.,  Frahm, J.P., Fischer E., and Lobin W. 2006.  The Liverworts, Mosses and Ferns of Europe. Harley Books, Colchester.

Hill, M.O., Preston C.D., and Smith A.J.E., 1992. Atlas of the Bryophytes of Britain and Ireland Vol. 2 Mosses (except Diplolepideae). Harley Books, Colchester.

Holyoak, D. T. (ed.). 2003. The distribution of bryophytes in Ireland: An annotated review of the occurrence of liverworts and mosses in the Irish vice-counties baseed mainly on the records of the British Bryological Society. Broadleaf Books, Wales.

Lockhart, N., Hodgetts, N. & Holyoak, D. 2012. Ireland Red List No.8: Bryophytes. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Dublin, Ireland.

Lockhart, N., Hodgetts, N. & Holyoak, D. (2012a) Rare and Threatened Bryophytes of Ireland. National Museums of Northern Ireland.

Porley, R. and Hodgetts N. 2005 Mosses & Liverworts, Collins.

Rodwell, J.S. (ed.) 1991. British Plant Communities Vol.2 Mires and Heaths.Cambridge University Press.

Smith, A.J.E. 2004. The Moss Flora of Britain. Cambridge University Press.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <>. Downloaded on 14 November 2014.