E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Sphagnum capillifolium (Ehrh.) Hedw.
common red peat-moss (sphagnum)

Species Account Author: Wilf Schofield
Extracted from Some Common Mosses of British Columbia

Introduction to the Bryophytes of BC

© Bryan Kelly-McArthur  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #71344)

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Distribution of Sphagnum capillifolium
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Species Information

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Illustration Source: Some Common Mosses of BC

Species description:
Genus name Greek, originally applied to a plant of unknown identity. Species name meaning hair-leafed, presumably referring to the narrower leaves, compared to many species.
Sporophytes occasional, borne on a short stalk, nearly immersed, dark brown; sporangia globose, peristome teeth lacking, maturing in late spring and summer.
This is one of the "peat mosses" as the species of Sphagnum are commonly called. Some authors divide S. capil/ifolium into several species distinguished from each other using rather controversial characters.
Distinguishing characteristics:
The rounded, condensed head of branches, the narrow, acute (actually flat-topped but appearing acute at lOX) branch leaves, and the frequent deep pink to red pigmentation of leaves and stems, serve as useful features although field characters are difficult to give because many species resemble S. capil/ifolium. Detailed microscopic features are needed to be confident of determination. When dry, the plants are very brittle and pulverize to light dusty fragments.
Tall, pale green to pink to deep red turfs or rounded tufts of erect shoots.
Similar Species:
S. rubel/um is often separated from S. capil/ifolium; deep red plants of Sphagnum at low elevations are likely to be S. rubel/um rather thanS. capil/ifolium, which may show only slight hints of pink, S. warnstorfii of high elevations and more northern latitudes is also very similar and is readily distinguished only on microscopic features. S. fuscum resembles S. capil/ifolium in general appearance but, in S. fuscum, the stems are dark brown and the whole plant is often rusty in appearance. Specimens of S. girgensohnii of higher elevations may resemble S. capil/ifolium but the leaves of the main stem of S. girgensohnii show a broad tattered apex when viewed with a hand lens; those of S. capil­lifolium are pointed and appear to have small apical teeth.

Habitat / Range

Frequent in bogs, usually forming cushions or mats that flourish in better-drained sites but some specimens (those that tend to be deep red, especially in autumn) occur in wetter depressions but never submerged for extended periods.
World Distribution

Circumpolar in the Northern Hemisphere; widespread in North America, south in the east to Georgia and in the west to California.

Synonyms and Alternate Names

Sphagnum acutifolium Ehrh. ex Schrad.
Sphagnum capillaceum (Weiss.) Schrank
Sphagnum capillaceum var. tenerum (Sull. & Lesq.) Andrews
Sphagnum capillifolium var. tenerum (Sull. & Lesq.) H.A. Crum
Sphagnum nemoreum Scop., nom. dub.
Sphagnum nemoreum var. tenerum (Sull. & Lesq.) Nyholm

Taxonomic and Nomenclatural Links

Additional Range and Status Information Links

Additional Photo Sources

General References