Sphagnum subnitens

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Identification notes

Sphagnum subnitens sits with most of the other red-pigmented Sphagnum species in subgenus Acutifolia. Like its red and pink-tinged relatives, the pigments develop best when plants receive substantial amounts of light, out in the open and not shaded by woodland or tall grasses and dwarf shrubs. Shade forms of S. subnitens are often almost completely green and would only reveal themselves by going through a microscope key. However, when plants are dry, whether they are pigmented or not, their leaves have a silvery/metallic sheen. This is a unique feature in British and Irish Sphagnum.

Another very helpful character is the bicoloured capitulum that plants of subspecies subnitens often develop when they are in well-illuminated situations. Look for a green central part, surrounded by a ‘halo’ of branches coloured brick-red. There is an image of this in the gallery below.

Strongly coloured forms of subsp. subnitens sometimes look more red than brick-red and then confusion is possible with S. capillifolium and S. rubellum, which are usually more slender plants with deeper red colouring. A useful jizz character for S. subnitens (which, like the capitulum halo should not be relied on), is the shagginess of the fascicles just below the capitulum, giving the upper stem a top-heavy look.


  • Sphagnum subnitens subsp. subnitens
  • Sphagnum subnitens subsp. ferrugineum 

Subspecies ferrugineum is rather rare and lacks red pigments so is more likely to be taken for S. fuscum or S. beothuk.

Read the Field Guide account

Resources you may find useful

There are several publications and keys dedicated to the Sphagna of Britain and Europe. The most recent of these are listed on the Bryophyte identification page under Resources.

Bryophyte identification resources

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