A swainson's thrush sings on a summer evening from the top of a pine tree in a Southeast Alaska muskeg. Alaska's boggy muskegs are home to a variety of birds and animals, and unusual plants like the carnivorous sundew. But muskegs are not unique to Alaska. They are a type of wetland found in cool climates, closely related to landscapes elsewhere known as moors, peatlands, and bogs. Muskeg is a Cree word and is the term most commonly used in Canada and Alaska. Muskeg in Siberia is also called bogland.
Muskeg has the water table near the surface. Water flowing out of a muskeg is brown because of tannins dissolved in the water. Plant growth is slow because the soil is not very fertile, and decay is even slower because of the saturated, acidic, anaerobic soil. Sphagnum moss thrives in muskeg, and much of the soil is dead moss. Sphagnum moss can hold up to 30 times its own weight in water, allowing the spongy wet muskeg to form on sloping ground. The spongy mass of muskeg soil is known as peat, and peat accumulates and in some areas can be very deep.
Peat is harvested and dried as an important source of fuel in parts of the world. Peat moss, as dried sphagnum is often called, is used as a soil conditioner, as a packing material for shipping seeds and plants, and is used in the mushroom growing industry for cultivating mushrooms.