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(Cladina regiferina) Although it is commonly called a moss, this is actually a lichen. The "reindeer" part of its common name comes from the fact that it makes up a significant part of the reindeer's diet during the months other food plants are buried under snow.
Looking much like a tiny shrub, reindeer moss grows to a height of 2-4 inches. Its many intricate hollow branches, which oddly enough look sort of like antlers, are grayish white in color.
Reindeer moss often dominates the ground in boreal pine forests and open, low-alpine sites in a wide range of habitats -- humid, open forests, lowland bogs, arctic tundra, and even on rocks. It is found in great abundance across the arctic and subarctic regions of both Eurasia and Canada.
Reindeer moss grows so slowly that it can take 10 years or more for a patch to fully recover from reindeer feeding or other disturbance. It is so widespread across its range, however, that it is not uncommon to find mature clumps that have been growing for 100 years or more.
In addition to being a staple food for reindeer and other animals during the winter, native peoples use reindeer moss in medicinal teas to treat colds, arthritis, fevers, etc., as well as in a poultice to relieve arthritic pain. Reindeer moss is also often used as a decorative mulch for potted plants, and makes an excellent substitute for trees and shrubs in model train layouts.
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This page was last updated on 12/19/2017.