Peat bogs are a type of wetland with a unique ecosystem. The plants and animals living there must be able to tolerate wet, acidic conditions. This condition can be caused by acidic water or can be deposited by the types of plants living there. When mosses decompose, they increase the acid content of the soil and water where they live. Sphagnum moss is one of the products harvested from peat bogs. Over a period of years, the accumulation of decomposing plant materials will create a thick layer, which is useful in a number of ways.
The lay of the land will dictate which type of bog will form. Valley bogs form in areas where there are natural low spots on the earth. There are also raised bogs that build up on top of the ground. Quaking bogs have a higher ratio of water and the peat floats like little islands. Blanket bogs are more common and are a more even combination of water and peat. This peat can be cut and harvested in cubes. Some of the largest peat bogs are in Europe, Russia, Canada, New Zealand and North America.
Bogs contain historical significance. The acidic environment slows down the decomposition process. Because of this, many living things have been found preserved in peat bogs. While they may not last forever, they will remain intact for much longer. Bogs allow scientists to study ancient people, animals and artifacts found there. Mummified bodies have been recovered from bogs. The bodies are at different levels of decomposition but some still have organs intact. An important North American peat bog is called Windover. This historic site is located in Florida and has been preserved.
Peat can catch fire and smolder for long periods of time. Because of this capacity, it is harvested and used as heating fuel. This is a common practice in Russia and Ireland. The peat is cut into sections, the water is squeezed out, then it is allowed to dry. Sphagnum moss was even used as a bandage material by the Russians during the Russian-Japanese war of 1904.
Peat moss is used extensively in the horticulture field. This is because of its ability to absorb and hold water. It is a key ingredient in many commercial potting mixes. It is also a recommended ingredient in recipes for mixing your own growing medium. Orchids grow naturally in peat moss, so it is a common material used in orchid cultivation. Peat moss is also used when starting a new lawn. It holds the grass seed in place and keeps it moist while it germinates. Peat moss is used in hanging baskets to help retain moisture. It is also used as an ornamental feature in the florist trade and in the craft of bonsai.
At the rate peat is being harvested, it is important to develop conservation guidelines. Groups like the International Peat Society meet each year to discuss restoration and conservation of the worlds bogs. Another concern is the draining of peat bogs. This is done to develop the land or use it for agricultural purposes. Restoring a bog is very difficult. You cannot replant it like a forest. While many plants do poorly in bogs, those that are found there are rare and unusual. Pitcher plants and rare orchids are among the plants that thrive in bogs. Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants feeding themselves by catching insects. Orchids obtain what they need from the atmosphere. Because peat bogs are low in nutrients, plants must supply their own food. Birds reside in bog areas just as they do in any type of wetland ecosystem.