Reindeer moss can be used to improve or add to the aesthetic of a terrarium; it can benefit soil which in turn helps the growth of surrounding plants; and it can also be a source of food.
Here’s a deeper overview of reindeer moss and its uses.
What is reindeer moss?
Reindeer moss - also known as ‘Caribou Moss’ and ‘Reindeer Lichen’ - is actually a lichen formed through a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and algae. Reindeer moss derives its common name from the fact it is a source of food to reindeer.
Reindeer moss grows at a very slow pace - usually just 3-5mm per year. This means if its growth is disrupted - due to factors such as human intervention or overgrazing by reindeer - it can take decades or more for the plant to regrow.
In appearance, reindeer moss tends to be branched, with each branch dividing into a maximum of four larger branches. Its colour can vary, appearing with anything from a whitish tinge, a hue of grey, or a combination of brown and grey.
As just mentioned, reindeer moss is composed of two organisms - fungus and algae. This is a reciprocal relationship in the sense that the fungus provides the minerals and moisture, while the algae offers nutrition through photosynthesis. Due to this symbiotic relationship, reindeer moss is very resilient and can endure for long periods without water. However, without sufficient water or light, it can dry out and enter a state of dormancy, but it does have the capability of regrowth even if the lichen has been dormant for a substantial amount of time.
As a resilient plant species, reindeer moss is able to thrive in a diverse range of habitats. Habitats can vary from pine forests to low alpine sites, and the plant can also grow in both hot and cold climates.
Is reindeer moss good for plants?
Reindeer moss can be good for plants and support their growth, This is firstly due to its ability to break down rocks which forms the soil in which plants grow. And secondly, reindeer moss retains nitrogen within soil which benefits the surrounding plants.
Is reindeer moss edible?
Reindeer moss is not just a vital food source for reindeer, but for moose and caribou too. It commonly grows in alpine areas where these creatures live, such as Scandinavia and Canada. Its resilient nature allows reindeer moss to survive in these types of unforgiving climates and habitats which most plants are unable to. This makes it an ideal source of food for the herbivorous animals that live there.
As well as providing reindeer with a source of food in unforgiving environments, reindeer moss can also be a source of food for humans. Although, it’s important to caveat the moss needs to be thoroughly boiled and prepared before consumption - otherwise it may cause stomach problems. This is because reindeer moss, like the majority of other lichens, is 94% carbohydrates and 6% acid. Regardless of the quantity consumed, this acid can cause humans unpleasant stomach cramps. Boiling reindeer moss numerous times in clean water and adding bicarbonate of soda helps remove the acid.
Reindeer moss is generally seen as a source of nutrition in extreme survival circumstances like, say, if you were caught in the wild during a camping trip and desperately needed sustenance. However, it is becoming something of a experimental ingredient for chefs in the UK, and as such is sometimes used:
- As an ingredient in scones
- To thicken stews and soups
- To make bread and puddings
- To produce savoury sauces and custards
- To complement wild game or fish
- As a substitute for flour when dried out
- To create jelly when boiled with fruit
The taste of reindeer moss is similar to mushrooms, so may be an acquired one for some people. In terms of nutritional values, it is high in carbohydrates which makes it effective as a survival food, and it also contains vitamin A and vitamin B.
The taste of reindeer moss is similar to mushrooms
Do you need to water reindeer moss?
Reindeer moss has fantastic water retention abilities, therefore it doesn’t need constant watering as the species naturally stores water. However, it is worth watering the moss lightly during dry seasons or periods of extreme drought - such as when a heatwave strikes during the summer.
How do you use reindeer moss in a terrarium?
Firstly, you need to select a clear container to house the reindeer moss. This can be glass or plastic - it’s entirely up to you. More often or not, you can buy a good container for reindeer moss from a garden centre or an online shop. Or if you want to get creative, you can use a fish bowl, bottle, or glass jar to create a homemade terrarium. It’s worth bearing in mind that a wider container will make it easier to plant and look after the moss, as you’ll have easier access to it with your hands.
Once you have bought or settled on your chosen terrarium, you now need to fill it with gravel. One to two inches will suffice, and the reason you do this is to provide sufficient drainage for the reindeer moss. Pour the gravel into the container and smooth it with your hand or a small flat object to level it.
Next you need to add something that will nourish the reindeer moss. The fertiliser ideally should consist of plenty of organic matter. If you’re a seasoned gardener then you may want to create your own, or already have your own approach to fertiliser. If not, there are plenty of online shops or garden centres where you can buy it.
A terrarium is as much about aesthetics as cultivating a healthy plant. So you may want to decorate your terrarium with things like twigs or stones that will accompany the reindeer moss to create a visually pleasing environment. If you're something of a perfectionist, then it might be worth using chopsticks to arrange the additional items around the reindeer moss so they fit with your specific taste.
When you have arranged the appearance of your terrarium, along with any accessories to accompany the reindeer moss inside, gently sprinkle some water over the lichen. Be sure to wipe the inside of the glass after you’ve done this to remove any condensation.
Next it’s time to seal the container. I’d recommend using a tight fitting plastic or glass lid that can be removed if you need to, or some kind of plastic wrap. Once it’s sealed and you're happy with the fitting, place your terrarium in a spot that is well lit, although make sure it isn’t in direct view of the sun. It's best to maintain a terrarium at room temperature in order to keep the reindeer moss in a healthy state - the last thing you want is discoloured moss spoiling the aesthetic of the terrarium!