Reindeer Moss 101: How to Use in a Moss Wall & Terrarium

I’ll let you in on a secret – Reindeer Moss is an imposter.

It’s not technically a moss at all; it’s actually a lichen in disguise. Though you’d be forgiven for being fooled, even the way it grows in clumps is incredibly moss-like.

But despite being an elusive character, it is a highly versatile material.

It’s often used in art projects such as a moss wall or terrarium. 

And believe it or not, when properly prepared, it’s actually edible and used for its health benefits. In the 1800s, lichen brandy was even a thing – how neat!

I’ll explain everything you need to know in this article, from care to artistic uses to where to buy. And if you’re here for the recipes, skip to the end, where I’ll briefly cover nutrition (& hazardous caveats).

So channel your inner Gaga and rein on me.

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Reindeer Moss Care & Uses  

First, let’s take a deeper look at this unique moss lichen.

What is it? And where does it grow? 

Well, Reindeer Lichen, also known as Caribou moss (and known scientifically as Cladonia rangiferina), is a pretty interesting plant. Or rather, not a plant at all.

What we call ‘Reindeer Moss’ is a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and an alga (singular for algae, apparently) that cannot exist without one another. Which is pretty wild, right?

Native to arctic and mountainous environments, it’s extremely drought and cold-tolerant. It also earned its adorable name because it’s a food source for reindeer. 

So, as you’d imagine, live reindeer moss isn’t an ideal fit for warm, humid tropical terrariums despite it being closely associated with the hobby.

Reindeer Moss
Cladonia rangiferina will not thrive in a warm environment.

To properly maintain it, you’d need to live in an appropriate climate, and you’d need to grow it outside or in a fridge… With lights… 

If you’re left wondering why it’s so popular on the craft & DIY scene, let me introduce you to its stabilized alter-ego…

Preserved Reindeer Moss 

Preserved reindeer lichen (and all other types of preserved moss, for that matter) delivers an organic look without using any fake alternatives and without any care requirements. It can potentially last for years.

That’s why it’s used for all kinds of crafts. 

I’m going to go into more depth into open terrariums and moss walls, but they’re just the beginning of the possibilities – why not use it to spice up plant arrangements or create evergreen wreaths?

It’s also easy to find for sale, whether you want to buy in bulk or purchase a smaller amount.

👉 Shop Reindeer Moss on Etsy.

Just double-check that the seller sources sustainably (ideally from private land) because, as we’ve already mentioned, it’s a source of food for reindeer.

When the lichen is preserved, the (already relatively pale) color fades, so dye is often added. Sometimes, the goal is to match the original color, and sometimes, humans will be humans.

So, you guessed it; you can get it in a whole host of wild colors. Woo!

Reindeer Moss in different colors
Get a load of these moss colors by Air Plants UK (Image Credit: AirPlantsUk on Etsy).

Alternatively, if you’d like to try your hand at preserving yourself, you can head to my how to preserve moss article.

For that, you’ll naturally need the live stuff, and you can buy it on Etsy too, but it’s harder to find.

Now, let’s get on to the good stuff you can do with it, shall we?

Reindeer Moss Terrarium

As we’ve already covered, putting living Cladonia rangiferina in a tropical environment isn’t going to work. But hope is not lost.

We can still live our terrarium lichen fantasy if we use the good old preserved stuff instead.

Three ways this can work:

1 | In an open terrarium. Without live moss, open air terrariums can often look a little drab. Any exposed substrate is an invitation to add some flavor, so why not add some preserved lichen?

Reindeer Moss vs air plant
I was torn between adding preserved Reindeer Moss and an Air Plant when making a succulent terrarium.

2 | Create a preserved moss terrarium. Who said a terrarium needed to be living anyway? Some incredible terrarium artists exclusively use preserved moss and lichen. With preserved moss lasting for years, it’s a maintenance-free project with serious longevity.

Terraliving Etsy
Terra Living is the ultimate company if you need moss terrarium ideas & inspiration. They prove it doesn’t need to be living to look stunning. (Image Credit: TerraLiving on Etsy).

3 | Use it in a closed terrarium (ish). Okay, this could work, but it isn’t the best option. In theory, preserved lichen is no longer living, so what’s the harm in putting it in? Well, to start, if it’s dyed, the colors can leech in the moist environment and ruin the aesthetic. 

But what’s more of a concern is preservation process can include methylated spirits, so it’s not uncommon for preserved moss to be toxic. This can damage your plants and hurt any living creatures in your build.

There are many types of live terrarium moss – I recommend sticking to those for your closed terrariums!

Live moss
Preserved moss & lichen is excellent, but it never beats the real thing for me.

Reindeer Moss Wall

Moss wall art is a ridiculously gorgeous art form. And there’s so much scope for unique design with these projects. 

👉 If you want to buy, you can shop the many options on Etsy.

And if you want to create, I’ve got you covered.

For a complete preserved moss wall breakdown (including what frames to use, how to glue, and how to style), head to our DIY moss wall guide, written by expert Joe from Ome.

Or, if you need a quick and easy solution, check out our guide to the best moss wall kits.

Moss wall
Joe has used preserved Reindeer Moss and other types in this piece.

Edible Reindeer Moss?

Ever wondered what Reindeer Moss tastes like? I hadn’t until today.

Apparently, when unprepared, it tastes bitter, like aspirin.

This leads me nicely to the fact that it is not safe for consumption unless properly prepared. Due to its high acidic content, any amount can cause severe stomach cramps.

Also, unless you’re a lichen expert, distinguishing between species can be extremely challenging; some species are toxic, and I do not like those chances.

Despite this, Cladonia rangiferina has some nutritional value and has historically been utilized for its medicinal uses around the world – you can even purchase it as a tincture.

The acid needs to be treated to make it safe, but for information on that, along with recipes, you will have to head to an expert. Health and safety is way out of my remit, and I’m no food blogger. Though I do make world-class prawn linguine…

That’s All for Today

I hope this 101 has come in useful. What are you going to use Reindeer Lichen for? Let me know in the comments!

Check out our Moss Art guide for more mossy inspiration.

Till next time x

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