Moss, Reindeer - (Cladina rangiferina)


Common Name: Moss, Reindeer

Scientific Name: Cladina rangiferina

Family: Lichen

Other Common Names: Caribou Lichen

Flower Color: N/A

Habitat: Thin or poor soils, forest floors, rock

General Bloom Dates: N/A

General Characteristics:
This fruticose (shrubby) lichen ranges in color from white to a greenish or gray hue. Different species are found in different habitat types, or even the same habitat type, but each is found in different stages of development. For example the species C. mitis is dominant in forests that are under seventy years in age, and C. stellaris is found more commonly in stands of forests that are over 100 years in age.

Plant Lore:
Reindeer Moss is actually a lichen, which is a symbiotic relationship between two or three things. All lichens consist of a fungus, which is where their scientific name originates, and either a green algae, a cyanobacteria, or both. 90% of all lichens have one of five genera: Trebouxia, Pseudotrebouxia, and Trentepholia (green algae) or Nostoc and Anabaena (cyanobacteria) for their non-fungal component and all have different fungal bases.
There are also three main structural groups of lichens, there are the Crustose (form a sort of hard crust on rocks, trees etc.), Fruticose (shrub-like), and foliose (leafy). Reindeer moss is a Fruticose lichen, forming small, shrubby domes along the ground.
The names Reindeer moss and Caribou lichen are aptly so, since it is the chief winter food of Caribou. They can only absorb 28% of the lichens carbohydrates, but would become ill if they did not eat it. It is also very low in sodium, causing the Reindeer to kill Lemings and to drink urine and saltwater to fulfill this craving. The Dene (a group indigenous to the Arctic) eat the Caribou Lichen as well, except hey let the Caribou help them in the digestion. They mix the partially digested remains of the lichens with the blood of the Reindeer in it's stomach, hang it over a fire and smoke it for a few days, allowing it to ferment. Finally, they mix the contents with fat and strips of meat and boil it all together. Supposedly, it makes for a surprisingly delectable dish, especially considering the meal.

Modern Uses of this Plant:
You may recognize Reindeer moss if you are a model train enthusiast, because this fruticose lichen is a common component of elaborate set-ups. Due to its bushy appearance it makes a very appealing tree substitute.