PLANT OF THE WEEK: Reindeer Lichen, Deer Moss

By on July 14, 2011.

Cladonia sp. – Commonly referred to as Reindeer Lichen or Deer Moss, it is actually not a plant, but a lichen. Spawn of the symbiotic relationship between a fungus and green algae. Lichens are often found growing on trees and rocks throughout the world. This particular lichen grows in pillow-like mats and can be indicators of a healthy environment.

Size/Habit/Lifetime:  Average size is 1-4 inches, ovoid shape and at its largest, an individual clump may be about the size of an ostrich egg.  Often long living but very sensitive to environmental changes (fire, heavy pollution, etc.)

Culture:  Several similar species exist and can be found from tundra forests in the arctic to Florida and Texas. Deer Moss has no roots and receives all water from rain and moisture found in morning dew and humid air.

Leaf/Stem:  Texture is fine and airy, like a sea sponge. The misty blue-green color contrasts immensely in its dry, sandy habitat. Branching is extensive on the microscopic level, with thallus (lichen term for branch)up to in 1 mm in diameter !!!

Flower/Fruit:  Fruit develops from wind dispersed spores. Inconspicuous is an understatement.

Use:   Designing with Deer Moss begins to fill my design daydreams. While it’s very slow growing and found in open, undisturbed pine forests. It’s destined for design inclusion. It can be salvaged for trails and site design, lit with LED’s underneath or inside and dotted throughout a landscape, maybe suspended for temporary exhibitions, used as filling for privacy walls or as a design elements in small corporate gardens as a health and moisture indicator.

While some of the above design suggestions may never leave a high school art exhibit. Designers should not cease to include native plants into didactic exposés and themed gardens that  help people interact mentally and tangibly with our environments.

Notable Facts:  Reindeer Moss is named for being a chief component in the reindeer’s diet in sub-zero and tundra environments. In the past, it has been used by humans for vitamins and carbohydrates in times of starvation, after thorough cooking. Also, made into a powder to thicken soups.

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