Insignificant looking, perhaps, but that belies a richer truth.
Reindeer lichen Facts
Reindeer lichen is an unusual organism that consists of two different species: fungus and alga (or cyanobacterium). These two species live in symbiosis (mutually beneficial relationship). There are several species of reindeer lichen that can be found in the northern parts of Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. Reindeer lichen grows in woodlands, coniferous forests, lowland bogs, mountains and alpine tundra. It prefers well-drained, sandy, usually acidic soils and areas that provide partial shade. Reindeer lichen occasionally grows on the surface of rocks and logs. Number of reindeer lichen in the wild is dropping due to wildfires, overgrazing and pollution of the air. Reindeer lichen in Great Britain is listed as critically endangered.
Interesting Reindeer lichen Facts:
Reindeer lichen can form low, bushy clumps, roundish, cauliflower-like heads or dense mats on the ground. It can reach 4 inches in height.
Reindeer lichen produces hollow, branch-like structures with cottony surface. They can be whitish-green, yellowish-green or grayish-white, depending on the species.
Reindeer lichen can reproduce sexually via spores (reproductive structures) or vegetative via fragmentation of thallus (shoots-like, undifferentiated vegetative tissue). Light-weight spores usually travel by wind.
Reindeer lichen thrives in areas with harsh, cold climate. It can survive nearly total loss of tissue water. Crunchy, dry “branches” of reindeer lichen easily catch and spread fires in the wild.
Reindeer lichen form dense groundcover in the boreal forests which prevents growth of other vascular plants.
Reindeer lichen cannot survive in polluted areas. People use reindeer lichen as indicator species to assess the cleanliness of the air.
Reindeer lichen is important source of food for caribou, musk-ox and reindeer.
Reindeer lichen is used as animal fodder in the northern parts of Europe. Cows fed on reindeer lichen produce milk with creamier texture. Their flesh also has sweeter taste.
Indigenous people from the circumpolar areas sometimes consume partially digested reindeer lichen obtained from the stomach of caribou (humans cannot digest and obtain nutrients from the fresh reindeer lichen).
Akvavit is a type of alcoholic beverage made of reindeer lichen. It is popular and often consumed in Scandinavia.
Green reindeer lichen can be used in treatment of intestinal worms. It can be consumed in the form of tea or powder.
Grey reindeer lichen can be used in treatment of common cold, fever, cough, jaundice, constipation, convulsions and arthritis.
Yellow reindeer lichen contains usnic acid that can induce rash, itch and rarely formation of pimples, when it comes in contact with skin (condition known as lichen dermatitis).
Reindeer lichen grows slowly and produces one branch per year. Age of reindeer lichen can be determined by calculating the number of the main branches along the stem.