Reindeer lichen (Cladonia mediterranea)

Reindeer lichen
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Reindeer lichen fact file

Reindeer lichen description

GenusCladonia (1)

This member of the Cladonia (reindeer lichen) genus is whitish-grey in colour (3) and grows in low (4), bushy clumps (3). The familiar common name of these lichens, 'reindeer moss' is a misnomer, as the species is a lichen. This name arose because many members of the Cladonia genus comprise a major part of the diet of reindeer during winter (5), but this species, which as the specific name mediterranea suggests, does not occur in areas supporting reindeer (6).

Height: 4-10 cm (2)

Reindeer lichen biology

Lichens consist of two different organisms, a fungus and either an alga (a simple plant) or a cyanobacterium (bacteria that can photosynthesise), which live together symbiotically, forming a composite organism (5). Many lichens are known to be very sensitive to environmental pollution, and they have been used as 'indicators' species (5). There has been some doubt about the taxonomic status of this species in the UK it was thought that at some sites, the species present may be a form of C. portentosa (4). However, recent genetic analysis by the Natural History Museum on behalf of Plantlife, the wild plant charity, has shown that this species does indeed occur on the Lizard peninsula (6).


Reindeer lichen range

In the UK it occurs on Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall, and an unverified record was made from Carn Ingli in Pembrokeshire, although it has not been found there again (6). Elsewhere, it is known from the Mediterranean area, Turkey, western parts of France, North Africa and the Canary Isles (3).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Reindeer lichen habitat

Reindeer lichen occurs on alkaline soils (pH 7.0-7.3), usually amongst open vegetation (4). In all UK sites it is found growing with heather (Calluna vulgaris) (3). in Pembrokeshire it is found on boulder scree, and on Lizard it occurs on a bank supporting serpentine heath (3).


Reindeer lichen status

Classified as Critically Endangered in Great Britain, and receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.


Reindeer lichen threats

The remaining populations of this lichen in the UK are very small; this makes them highly vulnerable (4). Possible threats are trampling by livestock and the public, and fires (3).


Reindeer lichen conservation

The sites on Lizard Peninsula occur in a National Nature Reserve (4). Cladonia mediterranea is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species. The Species Action Plan aims to maintain and where possible, enhance all current populations. Work is needed to elucidate the taxonomic status of the species in the UK (4).

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.
The UK Biodiversity Action Plan for this species is available at UK BAP.

Find out more

For more on British lichens see:

Plantlife Species Dossier:

Dobson, F. (2000) Lichens. An illustrated guide to the British species. The Richmond Publishing Co. Ltd., Slough.



Information authenticated by Plantlife, the wild plant conservation charity:



A collection of taxonomically unrelated groups that share some common features but are grouped together for historical reasons and for convenience. They are of simple construction, and are mainly photoautotrophic, obtaining all their energy from light and carbon dioxide, and possess the photosynthetic pigment, chlorophyll A. They range in complexity from microscopic single cells to very complex plant-like forms, such as kelps. Algal groups include blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), red algae (rhodophyta), green algae (chlorophyta), brown algae and diatoms (chromista) as well as euglenophyta.
A group of bacteria that are able to photosynthesise and contain the pigment chlorophyll. They used to be known as ‘blue-green algae’. They are thought to have been the first organisms to produce oxygen; fossil cyanobacteria have been found in 3000 million year old rocks. As they are responsible for the oxygen in the atmosphere they have played an essential role in influencing the course of evolution on this planet.
Fungi are one of the taxonomic kingdoms, separate from plants and animals. They obtain nutrients by absorbing organic compounds from the surrounding environment.
Serpentine heath
Impoverished vegetation that is associated with serpentine rocks. These rocks release magnesium into the soil, which can restrict the natural succession (sequence of changes in vegetation type and animal life) of a community.
Symbiotic relationship
Relationship in which two organisms form a close association, the term is now usually used only for associations that benefit both organisms (a mutualism).


  1. USDA, NRCS. 2001. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.1. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA. (September, 2002)
  2. Purvis, O.W., Coppins, B.J., Hawksworth, D.L., James, P.W. and & Moore, D.M. (1992) The lichen flora of Great Britain and Ireland. The British Lichen Society, London.
  3. Church, J.M., Coppins, B.J., Gilbert, O.L., James, P.W. and Stewart, N.F. (1996) Red Data Book of Britain and Ireland: lichens. Volume 1: Britain. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.
  4. UK BAP (September, 2002)
  5. Allaby, M. (1998) Oxford Dictionary of Plant Sciences. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Duckworth, J. (2002) Pers. comm.

Image credit

Reindeer lichen  
Reindeer lichen

© Bryan Edwards / PLANTLIFE

PLANTLIFE - The Wild-Plant Conservation Charity
14 Rollestone Street
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1722 342730
Fax: +44 (0) 1722 329035


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