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The tops of spore capsules are only about 1 cm above ground, and where wind is weak.As the spherical spore capsule dries, the operculum is forced off, followed by a cloud of spores.Along the stem are scattered leaves of various shapes, named stem leaves; the shape varies according to species.The leaves consist of two kinds of cells; small, green, living cells (chlorophyllose cells), and large, clear, structural, dead cells (hyaline cells). Sphagnum, like all other land plants, has an alternation of generations; like other bryophytes, the haploid gametophyte generation is dominant and persistent.Tetrahedral haploid spores are produced in the sporophyte by meiosis, which are then dispersed when the capsule explosively discharges its cap, called an operculum, and shoots the spores some distance.The spores germinate to produce minute protonemae, which start as filaments, can become thalloid, and can produce a few rhizoids.Sphagnum species are also reported from "dripping rocks" in mountainous, subtropical Brazil.As with many other mosses, Sphagnum species disperse spores through the wind.

Different species of Sphagnum have different tolerance limits for flooding and p H, so any one peatland may have a number of different Sphagnum species.Peat areas are also found in New Zealand and Tasmania.In the Southern Hemisphere, however, peat landscapes may contain many moss species other than Sphagnum.Dried sphagnum moss is also used in northern Arctic regions as an insulating material.Anaerobic acidic sphagnum bogs have low rates of decay, and hence preserve plant fragments and pollen to allow reconstruction of past environments.This is often necessary when dealing with very sandy soil, or plants that need increased or steady moisture content to flourish.A distinction is sometimes made between sphagnum moss, the live moss growing on top of a peat bog, and 'sphagnum peat moss' (North American usage) or 'sphagnum peat' (British usage), the latter being the slowly decaying matter underneath. Accumulations of Sphagnum can store water, since both living and dead plants can hold large quantities of water inside their cells; plants may hold 16–26 times as much water as their dry weight, depending on the species.Sphagnum and the peat formed from it do not decay readily because of the phenolic compounds embedded in the moss's cell walls.The exact mechanism has traditionally attributed to a "pop gun" method using air compressed in the capsule, reaching a maximum velocity of 3.6 meters per second, High-speed photography has shown vortex rings are created during the discharge, which enable the spores to reach a height of 10 to 20 cm, further than would be expected by ballistics alone. Decayed, dried sphagnum moss has the name of peat or peat moss.This is used as a soil conditioner which increases the soil's capacity to hold water and nutrients by increasing capillary forces and cation exchange capacity.

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