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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Cushion Peatmoss - Sphagnum compactum
Other Names:  Low Peatmoss

Species of Concern
Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S1

Agency Status


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General Description
Plants: Firmly packed, the upward-pointing branches crowded and masking the capitula, light green, flaxen brown, multicolored with golds and browns, white with brown tones, or reddish when occurring in stony springs (FNA 2007).

Stems and Stem Leaves: Stems dark brown. Stem leaves 0.3-0.7 mm in length, tongue-shaped but with a broad base (making it somewhat deltoid); apex widely curved; border smooth, widened at the bottom (FNA 2007).

Branches and Branch Leaves: Branch stems green or green with brownish tones, closely packed together, not ranked, short, with 2 or 3 pendent plus 2 or 3 much stronger spreading branches in each fascicle; new plants from clonal growth often not branched. Branch leaves 1.4-3 mm, much larger than the stem leaves, egg-shaped; acumen spreading 90 degrees from the stem or nearly so; margins suddenly inrolled above, resembling a small hood (although not actually hooded); leaf tip seldom with over 6 teeth (FNA 2007).

Stem and Stem Leaf Cells: Stems with the outermost cortex comprised of 1-3 layers of fine-walled, inflated cortical cells that lack ornamentation and pores. Stem leaf hyaline cells diamond-shaped, lacking both ornamentation and pores, seldom with cross-walls; neither surface reassimilating and eroding (FNA 2007).

Branch and Branch Leaf Cells: Branch stems bounded by 1 layer of swollen, thin-walled cells with short necks, each possessing 1 pore and lacking ornamentation. Branch leaf hyaline cells revealing 5+ oval to rounded, ringed pores on the leaf’s convex surface; many ringed pseudopores found in 3s, one in each of 3 adjoining cell corners on the concave leaf surface; green cells appearing as narrow ovals in X-section, completely surrounded by the hyaline cells, but situated a little closer to the convex (outer) leaf surface than to the concave (inner) surface (FNA 2007).

Capsules ripen in summer (FNA 2007).

Diagnostic Characteristics
The variegated golds and browns and the distally inrolled branch leaves that appear hooded usually distinguish this species. The comparable S. strictum is lighter in color and the branch leaves are generally highly squarrose (FNA 2007).

Species Range

Range Comments
North American Range

From AK s to CA, scattered across Canada from YT and BC to NL (except NU), s following the coast to FL, and running inland to LA, AR, MO, IA, and MN (FNA 2007). Known in Montana from Granite and Meagher Counties (Elliott 2016).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 5

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

In exposed or partially shaded areas, open and wet, grassy pine country (eastern U.S. Coastal Plain), sandstone ledges in the mountains (Crum and Anderson 1981), wet sandy soil, peat, rocks high in silica content, living in low-nutrient environments. Elevation: low to high (FNA 2007).

Reproductive Characteristics
Monoicous. Capsules somewhat common, 2 mm or shorter in length with copious pseudostomata (FNA 2007).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Crum, H.A. and L.E. Anderson. 1981. Mosses of Eastern North America. 2 volumes. Columbia University Press, New York. 1328 pp.
    • Elliott, J.C. and A.K. Pipp. 2018. A Checklist of Montana Mosses (1880-2018). Updated 3 January, 2020. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, Montana. 73 pp.
    • Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 2007. Flora of North America North of Mexico. Volume 27. Bryophytes: Mosses, Part 1. Oxford University Press, Inc., NY. xxi + 713 pp.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • Elliot, J. C. 1993. Second checklist of Montana mosses. Unpublished report. U.S. Forest Service, Region 1. Missoula, MT. 45 pp.
    • Smith, A.J.E. 1980. The Moss Flora of Britain and Ireland. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 705 pp.
  • Web Search Engines for Articles on "Cushion Peatmoss"
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Citation for data on this website:
Cushion Peatmoss — Sphagnum compactum.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from