Rusty Peat Moss
"Common Brown Sphagnum"
General - brown to greenish brown; stems slender, brown, individually less robust than other peat mosses, in very compact hummocks; threadlike branches interwoven inside hummocks.
Leaves - stem leaves tongue-shaped, blunt; branch leaves lance-shaped, pointed.
Sporophytes - stalk short (1-2 mm); capsule chocolate brown, 1 - 1.5 mm long.
Caps hummocks in older or drier open bogs, forms extensive ground cover in black spruce bogs, or on isolated hummocks in fens; most common peat moss across Northwestern Ontario's boreal region; circumpolar.
Rust peat moss could be confused with unusually dark forms of acute-leaved peat moss. The brown stems of rusty peat moss distinguish it from all other peat moss in our region, except Lindberg's peat moss (S. lindbergii) and, in the northwest, S. lenense. However, Lindberg's peat moss is much larger, has a prominent bud at its tip and its stem leaves have broad torn tips. It also prefers habitats that are slightly more mineral-rich. Peat mosses absorb water better than a sponge. These plants are permeated with a system of minute tubes. Because of this sponge-like structure, peat moss absorbs water more quickly than cotton and can hold 3 - 4 times as much. Peat moss has been used for many years in baby diapers and menstrual pads. Many babies spent the first 2 years of life in a 'moss bag', made from moose hide and lined with rabbit skin. The baby was laid on the skin with dry moss and the bag was laced closed. Toddlers wore 'diapers' of soft skins packed with dry moss. The Chipewyan collected green, yellow, or white peat mosses from hummocks for use in diapers. Because of its absorptive and antiseptic qualities, the Woods Cree used rusty peat moss to treat diaper rash.
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