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Reindeer Lichen
Cladonia rangiferina

The common name is because it is a food source for reindeer and caribou. I’m not sure if white-tailed deer eat it here in Virginia, however.

This lichen forms mats that help the lichen retain moisture. Even when the top part becomes brittle and dry, the area underneath remains spongy and continues to retain moisture. The mats also help prevent seeds from germinating and colonizing areas where the lichen is growing.

It only grows about 3-11mm a year, so it can take decades to replenish itself if it is trampled, harvested or destroyed.

Alternate Names: Reindeer Moss, reindeer cup lichen, grey reindeer lichen
Size: 46-60' tall
Family: Cladoniaceae
Habitat: Boreal pine forests and open low mountain sites. 
Identification: "Large tree with narrow or rounded, compact crown and red flowers, fruit, leafstalks, and autumn foliage. This popular ornamental tree grows 40-60 ft. in cultivation, occasionally reaching 100-120 ft. in the wild. Leaves vary from 3- to 5-lobed, with lobes separated by V-shaped angles. Male trees have notable pinkish red flowers in early spring, and females display decorative red samaras soon after. Young, vigorous  gray-white to greenish gray. It is very branched and forms tangled mats that resemble cushions. Branchlets occur in whorls of 3 or 4. Growth occurs at the edge of the basal region. As a clump of reindeer lichen gets larger, light and nutrients become less available to the center and this area dies back." From Virginia Wildflowers

All text and photos copyright © 2022 Middle Way Nature Reserve, unless noted.
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