The macromolecular compositions of subfossil plants from boreal Sphagnum bogs and restiad bogs (New Zealand) have been studied by pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to evaluate the extent of degradation in the anoxic zone (catotelm) of a peat bog. Degradation of vascular plant polysaccharides was apparent only into the upper catotelm. Sphagnum was degraded more slowly than vascular plants, but no cessation of degradation was observed. The inferred rate of degradation varied depending on type of plant, extent of aerobic, precatotelmic degradation, and mode of litter deposition (rooting versus at the surface). Environmental forcing on anaerobic carbon dynamics would potentially be largest if the hydrology was disturbed at a wet and vascular plant-rich site. Peat deposited under a dry regime would be relatively inert in anaerobic conditions. Although catotelmic degradation is usually not extensive, in some cases, if labile organic matter is retained in the aerobic phase (e.g., restiad bogs) a major fraction of peat is degraded in catotelm, potentially resulting in a delayed major export of 14C-old methane.