Lichens, Pacific Northwest
Reindeer Moss Lichen grows in arctic and northern regions around the world. It grows on the ground and on rocks. It looks like a green spongy moss, and grows to be up to 10 cm high. The stems, or stocks, are hollow, and branch out many times. Although it is called reindeer moss, it is actually a lichen. It grows on the whole coastal region of BC.
Lichens are two separate organisms. They are made up of fungi and algae, which live and grow together. The spongy threads of lichens support and protects the algae. The algae produces chlorophyll which can make food. The fungi can fix nitrogen from the air as a fertilizer, together, their needs are provided. This is called a symbiotic relationship.
Lichen can survive for long periods of time without water. They just dry out and go dormant. They will grow again when moisture is again present.
Animals such as caribou, feed on lichen during the coldest periods of the season. They do this because it is one of the only food that is available when the weather is cold and there is little other vegetation left. It has lots of carbohydrates that give the deer energy to make body heat. They have special microorganisms in their stomachs which let them digest lichen. Very few other animals can eat lichens.
People are afraid that the reindeer are dying from eating lichens. Lichens absorb pollutants and chemicals that fall with the rain and as they eat this and if they get enough, it kills them.
Lichens are commercially grown in Scandinavia to make a powder that thickens soups and desserts. It is very rich in vitamins A and B. They boil it until its soft. They use it in all kinds of their foods. They also make a tea out of it as a medicine for diarrhea.