Although I’ve encountered this lichen occasionally on my travels, while visiting Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Maryland, I saw quite a bit of it.
Lichens are “dual organisms,” made by mutualistic associations between fungi and algae. They grow in some inhospitable environments – on rocks, trees and man-made objects – yet they are very sensitive to air pollution and are natural indicators of air quality.
These organisms are important to the environment because they break down rocks into soil and they help to stabilize soil that’s already there. There are several different species known as “Reindeer Lichen” and this is Grey Reindeer Lichen, which is also known as True Reindeer Lichen.
It features hollow intricate branches coming out its main stem. The branches have a dull, cotton-like look and feel. Grey Reindeer Lichen can form extensive carpets over the ground in open pine forests, especially on sandy soils and in open areas.
This organism has a range extending into the tundra and is a important food source for Caribou. Reindeer Lichens grow slowly and mature clumps are often around 100 years old.