Sunday, January 3, 2010

Reindeer Moss

This is a fun plant. I’m not referring to the Eastern Red Cedars, even though they can be a lot of fun. I mean the blue-gray lumps on the ground. Commonly called Reindeer Moss, a misnomer since it’s neither a Reindeer nor a moss, this is a ground dwelling form of lichen of the genus Cladina. Low fertility soils are most likely to support colonies of Cladina. The cedars are part of a quarter acre patch that were left when the rest of the area was cleared. They sort of act as a before condition.

When wet, the plant is very soft and pliable. Dry specimens crumble at the slightest pressure. When I hear the lichen crunching beneath my feet, I sometimes feel guilty about walking through it in the summer. A little bit of damage doesn’t seem to hurt it any. Every piece that breaks off falls to the ground to become a new plant. An easy way to get some started in a new area is to slightly crumble a big piece and sprinkle over the new site.

Because of its natural resemblance to trees and shrubs, Reindeer Moss was once used extensively by scale model train enthusiasts to decorate their railway landscapes. This branch certainly looks like a tree in miniature, but I think it should have a miniature haunted house beside it.

This is an edible lichen that was once used by the early pioneers. The dried plant would be ground up and mixed with flour to make that irreplaceable item last longer. If I had been a lichen collecting pioneer child, I bet my Dad would have complained every night that I had again managed to gather grass, dirt, or bugs along with the lichens.

Reindeer Moss is quite common in the barrens and blends with the mosses, forbs and short grasses. I know there are several species with similar appearance. Learning to identify lichens is another item on my unending list of things to do.

1 comment:

  1. Lichens and mosses are just the coolest things. Happy New Year!