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Another common name for reindeer lichen is ‘reindeer moss’ but this species is not a plant. As a lichen, it is made of two organisms, fungi and algae, which form a symbiotic relationship with each other which allows them both to survive. The fungi provide a protective structure and nutrients for the algae which can then photosynthesis and produce sugars for the fungi.

Taking the majority of its nutrients from the air, reindeer lichen is an excellent indicator species for air quality as it is unable to survive if the air is polluted. So, if you see Reindeer lichen, go ahead and breathe deep!

Growing up to 8cm in height, reindeer lichen spreads outwards across the ground where its centre may die back after several years.  Its appearance is almost shrub-like with many tiny branches forming tufts that range in colours of pale green and whitish-grey. It is slow growing, gaining only 3-5mm per year over an average 100-year lifetime but it can reproduce asexually where breakages are dispersed via wind, water or animals. In times of drought, the reindeer lichen appears brittle but can remain dormant in this state until the rains come, when they absorb the moisture and swell like a sponge.

Projects protecting Reindeer lichen

National Trust Images: James Dobson

Dorset

Our work on the Dorset coast is taking place at the beautiful and historic Studland coast, part of the new Purbeck Heaths NNR. The project here is led by National Trust

See all species

Another common name for reindeer lichen is 'reindeer moss' but this species is not a plant. As a lichen, it is made of two organisms, fungi and algae, which form a symbiotic relationship with each other which allows them both to survive. The fungi provide a protective structure and nutrients for the algae which can then photosynthesis and produce sugars for the fungi.

Taking the majority of its nutrients from the air, reindeer lichen is an excellent indicator species for air quality as it is unable to survive if the air is polluted. So, if you see Reindeer lichen, go ahead and breathe deep!

Did you know?

Reindeer actually do eat reindeer lichen! In the winter when dietary plants have died back, this and other lichens form 90% of the reindeers’ diet, where their digestive enzymes break down the lichen, enabling access to its rich source of carbohydrates. The reindeers’ keen sense of smell help it locate lichen under the snow, where they then dig through the ice to reach their treasure and they will proactively defend this store cupboard from other passing reindeer.

Where to find me

Reindeer lichen are most successful in the far northern hemisphere, so most UK sightings have been in Scotland, where the UK’s only naturalised reindeer also exist. However, it is present at Studland Bay. It can be found throughout the year on sandy, nutrient poor, open spaces such as heathlands and dunes, where its slow, mat-like spread stores groundwater, preventing other species’ seeds from germinating and this enables reindeer lichen to grow without competition for sharing resources.

Conservation actions

How to ID me

Growing up to 8cm in height, reindeer lichen spreads outwards across the ground where its centre may die back after several years.  Its appearance is almost shrub-like with many tiny branches forming tufts that range in colours of pale green and whitish-grey. It is slow growing, gaining only 3-5mm per year over an average 100-year lifetime but it can reproduce asexually where breakages are dispersed via wind, water or animals. In times of drought, the reindeer lichen appears brittle but can remain dormant in this state until the rains come, when they absorb the moisture and swell like a sponge.

Projects protecting Reindeer lichen