Sphagnum mosses often form a conspicuous and important component of our vegetation. This short handbook is intended to provide naturalists with an accessible key for the identification of Sphagnum species in the field. It is supported by brief descriptions of the more important identification features, plus a guide to the vegetation types that the individual species occupy.
Most botanists can recognise sphagna to genus level without difficulty, as they are a familiar component of wet habitats such as woods, mires and heaths. When well grown they typically form brightly coloured carpets or hummocks and, by moss standards, are really quite large.
In common with many other large and brightly coloured plants, particularly when there are illustrated guides to hand, there is a temptation to identify by the look of the plant, and quickly move on to the next plant. However, sphagna are not always well-grown and are morphologically somewhat variable so are best treated as plants which demand a little more attention.
For basic identification in the field, all you need is a x10 lens, although a x20 is very useful. But as some individual specimens can be problematic, short keys based on microscopic characters are also provided.
This Sphagnum mosses guide is part of the FSC’s AIDGAP series (Aids to Identification in Difficult Groups of Animals and Plants). Our AIDGAP guides are accessible identification keys, suitable for non-specialists from age 16+. Since 1976 the AIDGAP project has produced over 40 keys to many different groups.