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Caribou Moss

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Botanical Name: Cladina species

Other Names: Reindeer Moss, Reindeer Lichen


 It is usually pale green to pale grey in colour, and is reminiscent of an underwater sponge. The tiny branches are numerous and it produces dense mats of dull cottony type growth, between 1- 4 inches in length. They are extremely slow growing, producing only one new branch a year.  Spare a thought for them before you tramp all over them during your forest walks!


The Yukon’s boreal tundra is one of this lichen’s favoured homes, the other being Scandinavia. It favours open conifer forest floors, but grows over thin soil and in bogs of sphagnum moss also.


Derived from the Greek word kladon meaning sprout.

Traditional Uses:
Humans cannot digest lichens; however the partly digested lichens taken from a fresh Caribou or Musk Oxen’s stomach was highly prized, as all rumen is. It was usually mixed with fat and sometimes small pieces of meat, and was said to taste like lettuce!

In some areas, it was used as a medicine to treat colds and fevers, and has been proven to contain photochemical* to kill staphylococcus.

Lichens in the Yukon support the Caribou, Musk Ox and other hoofed animals throughout the winter. In fact, Caribou are one of the few animals that have special microorganisms in their stomach which allows them to digest the lichens.

Current Uses:

Lichens are commercially grown in Scandinavia as a thickener for the food industry. It is also used in the making of the spirit Aquavit or water of life, a concentrated distilled alcohol.

You may be familiar with this lichen and not know it.  It is used by model railway enthusiasts and architects for the miniature shrubs and trees.

Plant Properties:

Current research is taking place in hospitals and nursing homes, targeting patients with low immune systems, or those who have become immune from taking excess antibiotics, on its ability to kill the deadly MRSA bacteria.

Interesting Facts:

Lichens are not plants, but are made up of fungi and algae, a very efficient example of a symbiotic*  arrangement.

The fungus in this relationship is the thread like structures, and this supports the algae which has the chlorophyll to produce food.  These lichens are especially suited to living in severe climatic areas, as they are still able to produce food in low light and extremely cold temperatures.  They have a dormant stage that aids them through the cold winter, or periods of drought.

Lichens absorb their food and water through their surface cells, making them an easy target for pollutants in industrial areas.  An area with a healthy lichen population is one with pure clean air.

*Phytochemicals are the variety of chemical compounds that occur naturally within a plant.  The term is mainly used to describe these compounds that may affect human health. 

*Symbiotic relationships occur throughout the plant and animal kingdom.  The relationships can be obligate, meaning that both parties are entirely dependent on the other for survival, as in the case of many lichens, or mutualistic, meaning that each of the species benefits from the actions of the other party.  In the case of mistletoe, it lives on its host plant, but there are cases where one of the partners live inside the other e.g. bacteria in our gut.

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