Sphagnum peat moss is widely used by gardeners as a soil amendment. Peat moss loosens heavy clay soils, improves the water holding capacity of sandy soils, and provides organic matter. Sphagnum peat moss is the dead, partially decomposed material that accumulates in the lower levels of the peat bog.
Sphagnum moss, on the other hand, is the living moss that grows on top of a sphagnum bog. Sphagnum moss is used widely in the floral industry for wreaths or to line hanging baskets.
A fungal disease called Cutaneous sporotrichosis has been found in several kinds of organic material. This disease causes an infection in humans that is identified by ulcerous skin lesions. One material known to carry the sporotrichosis fungus is sphagnum moss. Sphagnum peat moss does not carry the fungus.
In the florist industry, workers are advised to wear gloves and heavy clothing to avoid puncture wounds or scrapes that may allow the transmission of the fungal organism. Gardeners and hobbyists who use sphagnum moss to create their own baskets or for craft projects should follow the same guidelines. Wear gloves and long sleeves to prevent coming into contact with the dried moss. The only time there is a possibility of contracting the fungal organism is when you are in direct contact with the moss and there is an opening in your skin for the fungus to enter (a cut or scrape).
If you have further questions regarding the sporotrichosis fungus, consult a physician.
This article originally appeared in the July 15, 1994 issue, pp. 1994 issue, pp. 110-111.