Reindeer Moss - Cladonia Rangifernia
Reindeer Moss is a light colored plant and a fruticose lichen. It can grow in both hot and cold places and well drained soils. Also known as the reindeer, lichen and caribou moss. Found mostly in areas of alpine tundra and those are freezing hardy. Slow growing which means it only grows three to 5 mm per year so it takes forever to grow and returns once overgrazed, burned, trampled and consumed. The thalli are fruticose and branched out extensively. Each branched is usually dividing into three or four different ones, sometimes it just does two. This moss has a grayish color and a brownish grey to white. Likes to grow on humus or rocks. Mostly in taiga and tundra areas. Dominates the ground in pine forests and open low alpine sites in wide ranges. Sometimes it is used as a decoration in glass windows.
This moss has been used to remove kidney stones and food uses by crushing the plant and boiling it or soaking it in hot water so it becomes soft. This moss can be used in fish, eggs, or lard. The juices are used to help diarrhea. Since it has acids consuming this may cause you to have an upset stomach if not cooked as it should be.
Reindeer Moss is quite an interesting type of plant. It is part fungus and a cyanobacterium or alga. It is a type of lichen plant. The fungus will form a sponge-like padding where the algae will grow and absorb its own nutrients from the air around it. It makes this plant very susceptible to pollution. This moss will also fix nitrogen into the ground where it is growing, and this is very beneficial for the surrounding areas. Interestingly enough, this moss will even break down rocks and turn it into the soil over some time. This moss can grow far up north and is a food many of the wildlife in the area. Since food is rare in these areas, caribou, reindeer and musk oxen will often graze on this moss for nutrition. It is sometimes their primary source of food during the winter months of the year. This moss has served many more purposes throughout history. Native Americans would use this moss in a powdered form to use in their soups and stews as a thickening agent. Early settlers would even use reindeer moss to kill wolves in the area. They would stuff a chicken with this moss, and the wolf would attack unknowingly consuming this plant. Unlike other animals, this is harmful to the wolves’ digestive tract and will prove to be a fatal component in their system. Humans cannot digest this moss either unless it is cooked first because of the acidic nature of this plant. This moss also proves to be a great way to evaluate the surrounding environment’s health conditions.
Many environmental scientists study this plant. A not so happy example of this in action is during the Chernobyl explosion in the Soviet Union. The reindeer moss in the area acted quickly in absorbing the radiation from this explosion, and this showed scientists and others how far this radiation had traveled. The spongy nature of the plant will absorb nutrients as well as all the impurities from the air, and this is just one example. Many animals continued to eat this moss even after it had become poisoned, and, therefore, many animals had to be destroyed. Even though this is a darker part of the plant’s history, it only goes to prove how valuable it is for our environment. Some people even make this into a powder and use it for the type of herbal tea. Model train enthusiasts even use this to decorate their tracks! The uses seem to be endless for this moss! Reindeer moss is a perfect addition to a rock garden because of its ability to continue its life even during dry conditions. It will dry out but will maintain its liveliness. When it is particularly rainy, it will absorb the water like a sponge. Many even use this in xeriscaping for borders and such, it has become very popular over the years. Not only will it add a unique and exotic look to rock gardens and other landscape areas, but it is extremely hardy. It can survive and thrive in many harsh weather conditions, making it standout among many plants and flowers. The symbiotic relationship between fungus and algae of this moss, or lichen is simply remarkable. It never ceases to amaze gardeners with its beauty and intricate system. Birds will even use this to help create their nests, making it a helpful addition to wildlife in the area. Reindeer Moss will grow to be about eight centimeters tall but will cover a very large area and will be found in a variety of climates. From the arctic to warmer temperatures, it can survive many conditions. This plant will only grow about three to five centimeters per year, making it a slow grower. It will have the most growth during spring through summer when humidity is at its highest. The branches on this moss are very slender and thing and will grow in the same direction. The wonder this moss provides is beyond interesting. It has a botanical name of Caledonia mangiferin. A fact about this plant is even when there are drought and the plant dies off and become dormant, it can revive itself even after lengthy time periods durable and hardy. It has to be since in grows mostly in Canada and Europe and will prove to become food. It is also where this plant gets its name and is also called Caribou Moss is some areas. This moss is also rare, and many areas have it on their endangered species list. It is mostly due to human involvement. If this lichen is removed from the area, it can take as long as thirty to fifty years fully to grow back. This plant is a prime indicator of the environment around you. By watching this plant, you can get an idea of the air quality, pollution levels, as well as the environment’s health as a whole. It has tons of vitamin B and is very nutritious. Just make sure that you prepare this plant correctly if you decide to consume it as it can cause severe stomach issues. It may be hardy but since it absorbs nutrients from the air it will also absorb all of the horrible things as well. It is its weakness. In summary, this plant is very useful and helpful to the environment but will also not survive highly polluted areas. It is known for being a help to many wildlife creatures such a reindeer, caribou and musk oxen. It is truly a spectacular example of how complicated, yet simple nature can be. It is a great plant to research and purchase, especially if you live in areas with harsh winters as it will prove to be a hardy and durable moss.