I've read several accounts on the use of live sphagnum for orchids, either in
orchid magazines or in online sources. I first became interested in live
sphagnum for growing carnivorous plants, but became inspired to try that for
paphs after reading an article by Lance Birk in the October 1970 issue of
Orchid Digest magazine. Lance also wrote a thread about it some while ago:
I've tried live sphagnum myself for a small number of paphs big and small, and
have had great results. I'm sharing my experience here, hope you'll find it
How to get live sphagnum moss?
Sphagnum naturally grows in boggy areas in temperate climates, and can
even be found in tropical climate in montane habitats. It may be collected
legally in some areas, but sometimes it may not. One of the ways to obtain
live sphagnum is by coincidence. Dried sphagnum can regenerate new
sprouts under favorable conditions. I'm using Chilean sphagnum, which
contains mainly the red species S. magellanicum. I find that it regenerates
quite readily, and have found the live form growing by itself in the pots of
orchids that are given moist/wet cycle, or in potted carnivorous plants kept
wet under very high humidity. Below is a picture of regeneration in a potted
maudiae type hybrid.
The same pot, after several months:
The paph was grown with the medium kept from moist to wet in a clear pot
and as you can see the moss was sprouting near the pot sides. Under such
condition, the sphagnum does not develop its characteristic capitulum, but
grows in thin, individual long shoots. A capitulum is one defining feature of
the genus sphagnum, and is the flower-like structure you see at the apical
end of each shoot. But young sphagnum or sphagnum grown in shady
conditions sometimes do not develop the capitula, or develop these poorly.
Which brings the point about how to look for live sphagnum when other
mosses are also present. Here is a picture of a few shoots of live sphagnum
sprouting on a surface that has other mosses on it.
In this case the capitulum has not developed, but the moss can be identified by the
similar look to the dried sphagnum it comes from. The other mosses are
distinctly different. Quite often live sphagnum will sprout on sphagnum
medium surface that is kept moist to wet, but won't survive long enough to
produce the capitula that will distinguish it right away.
Live sphagnum moss is quite common stuff among the carnivorous plant
lovers, so if you cannot get them yourself, you very likely can get some from
your CP-er friends.
Culture of live sphagnum moss
When you get hold of live sphagnum moss, you can grow it on a bed of
sphagnum moss medium soaked in clean or peaty water. I propagate mine
by cutting off the capitula of the live moss and insert them onto new
beds of sphagnum. Frequent watering from the top with good quality water
helps to keep the moss alive. At low temperatures, the moss grows
vigorously and can be grown in full sun, but when the summer is hot it needs
some protection from direct sunlight. I've also grown live sphagnum
successfully under lights in an air-conditioned room. Here are some pics:
Grown under lights
Grown under full sun in winter. This is a very compact green sphagnum species sprouting out from Chilean sphagnum.
The red Chilean sphagnum S. magellanicum at the end of summer, grown outdoors in dappled shade.
There are some cool links that contain more details about the culture of live
sphagnum. These have helped me so much and gave me so much reading
pleasure about a year ago when I was truly crazy about sphagnum mosses, hehe
http://rbg-web2.rbge.org.uk/bbs/Resources/Fletcher.pdf (Chapter 3 - Sphagnum Growing)