Reindeer moss (Cladonia rangiferina) grows extremely slowly. It is so slow growing it is protected in certain areas. Reindeer moss grows on every continent, can survive temperature extremes, and provides food for animals, such as caribou and reindeer. No amount of care will increase the growth rate.
Reindeer moss is not a real moss, at least not biologically. It is a lichen which is a specialized relationship, called symbiosis, between a fungus and an algae. The fungus provides the algae both protection and a source of moisture by catching and holding water in its scaly hyphae. The algae, with its chloroplasts, produces sugars from carbon dioxide, water and sunlight. The lichen uses the sugar to fuel its growth and also to produce complex carbohydrates for storage.
Lichens are not farmed or cultivated. They grow where they grow and are not planted. Like all fungi, they are spread by spores and once growth has started, the fresh-water algae find shelter there and begin their symbiotic relationship. Growth is slow because fungi depend solely on sugars produced by algae to obtain energy to grow. The annual growth of each stemlike branch averages less than 1/4 inch.
Lichens, such as reindeer moss, provide a rich supply of food for foragers including reindeer and caribou. The algae that are part of the lichen complex also combine atmospheric or gaseous nitrogen into forms that can be taken up by the roots of plants and incorporated into proteins which also provide food for foraging animals. Don't be tempted to buy light green moss tiles or other items made from reindeer moss. These are dead lichen colonies that have been taken from forests and dyed. They will not grow.
Lichens do no harm to the trees or other places they grow. They are a good sign the air and water in the area are pure because they don’t grow where there is pollution. So if you see reindeer moss growing in your yard, leave it alone. If you find lichens growing on rocks and trees near your home, be thankful the air and water are clean enough for them to grow.
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