Sphagnum capillifolium subsp. rubellum | Red 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.

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

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

Sources: (1) Lockhart, N., Hodgetts, N. & Holyoak, D. 2012; (2) The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3.

Legal status

Protected by the following legal instruments:

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

Native status


Species Biology


Members of the Sphagnum genus are distinguished from other moss species by the combination of the following, amongst other, 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, contains 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'.

Sphagnum capillifolium is one of a group of twelve Irish Sphagnum taxa (including 4 subspecies) that are often referred to collectively as section Acutifolia. In this group the defining characteristics are primarily microscopic e.g. that branch leaves have up to 3 large pores (between 8µm and 30µm) on the underside, and that chlorocyst shape is approximately triangular, the base of the triangle most visible from the upperside of branch leaves.

There are other characteristics that may aid identification in the field.

  • Branch leaves are not conspicuously hooded at the apex.
  • Stem cortex makes up less than 1/4 of the stem diameter.
  • All species in this section (apart from Sphagnum molle) have stem leaves appressed with the leaf apex directed towards the capitulum in normal growing conditions.
  • Stem leaves, depending on species and / or conditions will have patches of narrow cells in the angles at the base of the leaves across between 20% and 80% of the width of the leaf base (apart from Sphagnum molle where these patches are absent).
Within this section Sphagnum capillifolium at a species level has the following characteristics;

  • S. capillifolium may vary in colour from deep crimson, to dusky rose or, usually when shaded, to mainly green flecked with pink or crimson.
  • Stem may be red or green.
  • S. capillifolium will have 2 (sometimes 3) spreading branches and 1-2 pendent branches per fascicle.
  • Shoots to 15cm in length in good conditions.

Subspecies rubellum has the following characteristics. Note that it can appear quite similar to S. Warnstorfii.

  • Capitulum is relatively flat topped (subspecies capillifolium has a markedly convex capitulum).
  • Subspecies rubellum generally forms loose mats or gentle hummocks (subspecies capillifolium usually forms dense hummocks that have a 'broccoli' like appearance due to convex capitula and denser growth).
  • Subspecies rubellum has stem leaves generally less than 1.2mm in length (subspecies capillifolium usually has them more than 1.2mm, to 1.4mm).
  • Stem leaves are tongue shaped and rather rounded at the tip (subspecies capillifolium often more triangular at the tip).
  • Patches of narrow cells in the angles at the base of the stem leaves across between 35% and 70% of the width of the leaf base.
  • Branch leaves are not very tightly overlapping (in subspecies capillifolium they are more likely to be) and often arranged in 5 neat rows along the branch (in subspecies capillifolium they appear less tidily arranged).
  • Branch leaves may be slightly curved to one side (in subspecies capillifolium  and S. Warnstorfii this is not usually the case).
  • Where spreading branch tips have a whitish appearance it is not due to the presence of elongated, un-pigmented leaves.
  • Pendent branches in wet specimens are generally not so tightly appressed to the stem that the stem is difficult to make out.
  • Capsules are rarely produced.

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


Habitats may include but are not necessarily limited to;

  • Bogs (PB)
  • Oak-birch-holly woodland (WN1)
  • Riparian woodland (WN5)
  • Wet willow-alder-ash woodland (WN6)
  • Bog woodland (WN7)
  • Wet heath (HH3)
  • Exposed siliceous rock (ER1)
  • Siliceous scree and loose rock (ER3)

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.

Source: 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)

Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) world mapping is not currently available for Sphagnum capillifolium ssp rubellum. World mapping for the species Sphagnum capillifolium (Breutel) Steudel, 1824 is available at;

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

Sphagnum capillifolium ssp rubellum would appear to be fairly widespread in Ireland and common in suitable habitat.

Temporal change

Records submitted to Data Centre in 2022

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 capillifoium ssp. rubellum in Ireland. Should you observe this subspecies, 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., 1992. Sphagnum: A Field Guide, Revised by Hodgetts, N.G. & Payne, A.G., ISBN 1 87370 114 4

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 2014.3. <>. Downloaded on 12 December 2014.

Additional comments

Sphagnum capillifolium ssp rubellum is thought to be the subspecies most common in Britain and Ireland. Subspecies capillifolium is recorded also, but less commonly. Older records may be for either subspecies so the distribution is not entirely clear as yet. Sphagnum capillifolium ssp capillifolium is perhaps more common in northern continental Europe.

In some areas these two subspecies are treated as separte species.

Sources: Atherton, I., Bosanquet, S., Lawley, M.,  2010; Hill, M.O. et al 1992; Smith, A.J.E. 2004.