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Peatland vegetation

In boreal and temperate regions, Sphagnum mosses are one of the primary components of peatland vegetation. They play a very important role, as they give peat its valued horticultural properties and form a virtually unbroken cover where other plants may establish and grow.

Plants typical of bogs

Because bogs are nutrient poor, wet and acidic environments, the biodiversity is low and composed of plants species that are specially adapted to these conditions. The plant assemblage commonly consists of Sphagnum mosses, ericaceous species (blueberry, leatherleaf, Labrador tea, rhododendron), carnivorous plants (pitcher plant, sundew), cotton grass, black crowberry, cranberry and black spruce.

Plants typical of fens

Fens benefit from an input of mineralized water and display a greater biodiversity of plants. They are home to cattails, herbaceous and vascular plants, in addition to shrubs and the occasional tree. Some of the plants found in bogs also grow in fens. In fact, it is the presence of minerotrophic plants that determines whether a given peatland is identified as a fen or as a bog.

Photo gallery of peatland plants

Sphagnum mosses (bogs)

Sphagnum mosses are water-filled plants that form green or reddish cushions. Individual plants consist of a main stem, with tightly arranged clusters of branch fascicles usually consisting of two or three spreading branches and two to four hanging branches. The top of the plant, or capitulum, has compact clusters of young branches. Along the branches and the stem are scattered leaves of various shapes; the shape varies according to species. The leaves consist of two kinds of cells: small, green, living cells (chlorophyllous cells), and large, clear, structural, dead cells (hyaline cells). The latter have a large water-holding capacity.

Sphagnum mosses grow quickly, from 2 to 12 cm per year. As the moss grows, its lower parts die and accumulate beneath the surface to gradually form peat. There are over 160 species of Sphagnum mosses growing worldwide.


Labrador tea (bogs)

It is a low shrub growing up to 50 cm tall with evergreen leaves. The leaves are wrinkled on top, densely hairy white to red-brown underneath, and have a leathery texture, curling at the edges. The tiny white flowers grow in hemispherical clusters and are very fragrant and sticky. Since it prefers drier conditions, Labrador tea is found mostly on hummocks (small mounds) and along the perimeter of peatlands. It is a popular ingredient in herbal teas and is widely used by Indigenous populations.


Sundew (bogs)

Sundews are perennial herbaceous plants, forming rosettes. The name of this plant comes from the small drops of digestive juices that sit at the end of each leaf. This carnivorous plant traps and digests the insects that it needs to survive. Sundew grows in the moist, nutrient-poor, acidic soils amidst Sphagnum mosses.


Cranberry (bogs)

Cranberry is an evergreen, creeping, mat-forming plant with slender, intricately forking woody horizontal stems 30 to 150 cm long, and upright flowering stems.

This plant has been used for food and for its medecinal properties by various Indigenous American communities. The large cranberry is also a major commercial crop in North America.


 Pitcher plant (bogs)

This carnivorous plant is highly ornate compared to other peatland species. Inside their modified leaves, known as pitfall traps, a clever lining of downward-pointing hairs helps insects enter the cavity while blocking the exit. Once trapped, insects struggle to exhaustion and drown in a pool of rainwater inside the leaf. A special enzyme generated by the plant dissolves the bodies of the trapped insect to supply valuable nutrients.


Dense cotton grass (bogs)

This herbaceous plant of the Cyperaceae family is a high (30 – 60 cm) tussocks-forming plant. It has elegant flower heads resembling tufts of cotton. It is common in natural peatlands but also as pioneer plants in disturbed areas.


Leatherleaf (bogs)

This small rounded shrub of the ericaceous plant family is the most common vascular plant found in Canadian bogs. The underside of its leaves is speckled with rust-coloured spots. The plant is considered a herald of spring, as it blooms earlier than all other peatland species. This has given the plant its nickname « Cassandra » in reference to the Greek mythological figure who could predict the future but whose prophecies no one believed.


Carex  or sedge (fens)

Carex is a vast genus of herbaceous plants of the Cyperaceae family, commonly known as sedges. The Latin name, Carex, comes from the Greek kairo, which means « I cut », in reference to the sharp edges of the leaves. The sedges resemble grasses, with their ribbon-shaped leaves and small, drab flowers. Unlike grasses however, sedges have full, triangular stems. Because sedges are very common, they are a food source for several species of mammals and waterfowl.


Scirpus (fens)

Scirpus are tall, blue-green herbaceous plants that grow in fens and marshes. They form large colonies that create natural nesting sites for birds. With their round hollow stems, cattails are used to make a wide variety of items, including carpets and mats. In addition, bulrush rhizomes and pollen were used as food by Indigenous populations.