Live sphagnum moss for paphs

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I've been thinking about mixing some moss in with crushed oak leaves and adding it to a mix. This is an interesting thread.
Would oak leaves be a good choice? I don't have oaks but understand vegetation doesn't grow well under oaks, they wipe out potential competition?


Jun 9, 2006
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Michigan, USA
Would oak leaves be a good choice? I don't have oaks but understand vegetation doesn't grow well under oaks, they wipe out potential competition?

Hmmmm -- I had to do a little googling on that one! I knew that black walnut roots are toxic to nearby plants, but I'd never heard of oak trees being toxic. In fact, I read somewhere that an oak leaf mulch over Cypripediums was a good thing. We have oak trees on our property, and grass grows under them quite well.

So what I found out was that acorns are toxic to dogs, oak is moderately toxic to horses but more toxic to cattle, especially in the Spring and Fall when there is little else to eat.

But I couldn't find information that said that oak is toxic to other plants.

If anyone has info about this question, I hope you'll share.


Sphagnum moss

Ok, this is just to let everyone know there are dangers of having sphagnum moss and especially using it as a compress. The sporotrichosis caused by fungus living in live sphagnum tissues can be directly transmitted into the blood through spores or stems of any infected area of the sphagnum and the fungus is very difficult to kill. It can cause lesions and ulcerated wounds that break out on the skin surface so be careful if using it as a compress.
Also, I grow my paphiopedilum and phalaenopsis in semi hydro ' prime agra' which is a clay aggregate made from superheating clay pebbles and making them porous yet hardened on the outside. The clay pebbles wick water and keep roots humid but also allow enough oxygen to contact the roots. I flush the pots frequently with water but use dilute fertilizer at every feeding and even had live sphagnum spores that germinated when I used all sphagnum in the pots. Even though there was fertilizer I must have used enough to flush the pots so the moss was virtually unaffected. I eventually moved the live moss to ziploc bags and repotted all my orchids in prime agra but the moss is still alive and the orchids are better off. With dried sphagnum that is rewetted, the moss still decomposes and gets algae and cyanobacteria on the pots and in the sphagnum itself.
With prime agra, there is less algae as the plants need to be watered more frequently, but there is less chance of root rot or anything else that occurs with the degradation of sphagnum moss. Any once live material used as medium for any kind of plant will eventually break down but prime agra since it is clay does not break down- it will eventually break if you are rough with it, but it does not degrade over time which is why so many people use it. I have a paphipedilum getting ready to bloom soon so I am excited about that and I will try to post pictures once it does bloom. I hope this helps with anyone who wants to spend less time potting or repotting and maybe give more enjoyment without worrying about rotted roots and or plants.


Hello again Hardy. Same plea :). Any possibility of updating the broken links to the photos on the first page please?

I actually have kept some live sphagnum moss growing in a bucket for two years, waiting for a role in life! This sounds like it could be it :)



Well-Known Member
Sep 14, 2006
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New York City Apartment
That's easy, put live sphagnum moss in your mixes w/ the other media. Also if you have plants that need root rescue, sphagnum often works to help roots grow.


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Jan 4, 2009
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Malang, Indonesia
Hello again Hardy. Same plea :). Any possibility of updating the broken links to the photos on the first page please?

I actually have kept some live sphagnum moss growing in a bucket for two years, waiting for a role in life! This sounds like it could be it :)


Same here, cannot edit my old post so here's the whole text copied and pasted with updated photo hotlinks:


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 (Chapter 3 - Sphagnum Growing)


Well-Known Member
Jan 4, 2009
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Malang, Indonesia
Using live sphagnum as a medium for paphs

Lance Birk has stated before that sphagnum moss is magic stuff for paphs. I've
found this to be so true. I can keep the bases of paphs sopping wet yet
they seem to be protected from rots, and the live moss quicky promotes an
initial flush of root growth. That's why I think it is one of the best growing
medium for salvaging a paph. From mature division, newly deflasked seedlings,
to ailing plants, they seem to respond similarly to live sphagnum. Of course
we can save our paphs in a variety of growing media, but we can keep them
sopping wet with little fear of rot in live sphagnum, which is a great advantage
for plants with little or no roots on them.

I harvest my sphagnum moss for use by cutting a few centimeters off my
sphagnum lawn, leaving the bottom one or two centimeters of stumps, which
can sprout again. When potting the paphs, I try to keep the vertical
orientation of the capitula. Both loose or firmer potting can work quite well.
After potting, I either dunk the pots in shallow clean water, or frequently
water the moss. I usually fertilize my paphs by soaking the medium with 1/6
to 1/10 recommended concentration of fertilizer, but drenching live
sphagnum with this fertilizer solution kills it in a matter of days. When the
moss has grown too tall, I simply press the capitula down to a lower level in
the pot.

My first example is a group of Paph thaianum seedlings. I first grew them into
the usual sphagnum moss medium with wet to moist cycles, yet they did not
do very well, and some leaves began to rot. I consulted the nurseries I
bought my flasks from and they both confirmed that Paph thaianum is a
difficult one from flask. I quickly transferred them to live sphagnum after a
few months of very poor growth and they quickly recovered.

Newly repotted into live sphagnum. Note the damaged leaves due to rot in the larger compot.

Good root growth few weeks after transfer to live sphagnum.

How the large compot looks today. It has been grown in live sphagnum a
little more than a year. It's been kept in very wet conditions. Note how the
moss has grown rampant. It wicks water up the leaves causing some salt
deposits on them. Time to press down the sphagnum and rinse the plants!


At almost two years from flask, the largest of the lot have leafspans of 3 to 4 inches.

I've also tried live sphagnum for growing Paph sanderianum seedlings. They
responded very well, producing healthy growth in the next one or two years.
I had one seedling losing all its roots due to careless deflasking. After two
weeks in live sphagnum, it grew four roots about 1-cm long. That's what I
call magic! I've salvaged the smallest sanderianum flasklings this way too.



I divided a four-growth, one-stolon Paph. Fanaticum, which had been grown
in a bark mix, into 3 divisions and single stolon, and I repotted them in live
sphagnum. The old roots adapted well to the new medium, and they grew
really nice new roots as well.




However, I think there is a caveat to using live sphagnum long-term for paph.
It is difficult to provide extra nutrients to the paph without killing the
sphagnum. It is actually possible to fertilize the sphagnum moss by very
light sprinkling of dilute fertilizer over the capitula, but these probably will not
be available to the paph anyway. Therefore, even though the roots of the
plants grow well, they will slowly be staved of nutrients, which may make it
unsuitable for long term culture. In an article in AOS magazine I believe, Disa
grows very healthy roots in live sphagnum but the shoots grow poorly. Also,
owing to the extreme acidity of live sphagnum, some paphs that prefer
neutral to slightly basic medium may suffer in it (mentioned somewhere in There's an article in an orchid magazine (forgot which one)
about the use of live sphagnum for paphs in Germany, where it's said the standard
complex type do not do well in it. I have not tried live sphagnum for standard
paph, but I find it to be quite unsuitable for maudiae-type seedlings. They
can grow beautiful roots initially, but shoot growth is very poor, much slower
than those seedlings grown in the usual sphagnum moss medium.


Growing sphagnum as a hobby in its own right

After getting to cultivate some live sphagnum I was hooked. I wanted to
learn as much as possible about them. The handbook provided by the
Bristish Bryological Society (one of the links above) was a great enabler for
me. I was intrigued by the colorful descriptions of the colored sphagnum
species. I soon noticed that the the dried Chilean sphagnum is mostly
brownish red, which I later found to be Sphagnum magellanicum, yet the live
moss I had kept were mostly green, just with the occasional pink tinge.


The handbook stated that bright light is necessary for the colors to come out,
but mine grown in full sun in the winter were just slightly pigmented. I was
intrigued so I tried to find information about them on the net. Luckily I found
a few scientific papers stating that a drop in nightime temperature to
cold conditions is mainly responsible to induce the coloring. Ah, so that is it!
But mine was still just lightly colored despite the cool winters here. One day I
had some excess NAA powder after dipping my rose cuttings, so I sprinkled
some on my S. magellanicum grown indoors. Voila! I got deep red sphagnum
in a few weeks! Yuppee!


For those of you who might want to know the growing conditions, this small
cup of sphagnum was grown in bright light (5-cm from fluorescent tube), in
an air-con room with 25 degrees minimum.

I got hooked even deeper, and exchanged some sprigs of sphagnum with a
couple of overseas friends online, so that at the peak of my craziness I had
11 distinct sphagnum.




Beautiful, aren't they? Unfortunately last year was a rough year for me. I had
to relocate and stuff, and most of these didn't survive. Well, I've lost many
plants under my care, but my lost sphagnum is among those I miss the most
and feel quite bad about.

Finally, here's a highly enabling link about the sphagnum species from Britain:

Phew! That's the looongest post I have ever written in a forum. Hope you have enjoyed reading it! Cheers.

(Reposted with updated photo hotlinks, upon Delilah's request)


That's fantastic, thank you.

The most amazing thing is that Sphagnum moss needs to be wet - not just moist, but wet - to grow like that. I'm stunned that orchids are OK with having their roots continually that wet. It's the opposite of the usual lore.

Ryan Young

Well-Known Member
May 22, 2013
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Vancouver BC
I should test some orchids with the live stuff, i have a small terrarium of carnivorous plants, embedded with some live sphag i liberated from a bog 2 years ago it's grown into a nice clump, i might take some for some seedlings!

Sent from my SGH-I747M using Tapatalk 4


Adorable Stud
Dec 31, 2012
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Oh man, just a great thread, I work so hard to get any moss growing constantly, that I takes my breath seeing so much Sphagnum at once! I really love mosses and it is great fun watching them (not) grow in a terrarium together with Drosera.