This lichen (Cladonia Evansii) is a familiar one. Known mistakenly as “deer moss” this fungus is a lichen, not moss. As the name suggests, this fruiticose lichen is important forage for whitetail deer in the eastern states. Though not as plentiful amongst the trees as the usnea lichen that seems to attache to the branches and trunks of even the youngest saplings, among the rocky hills, the light ash-gray clumps of lichen are visible from long distances, interspersed between the darker slate-gray stones. The lichen grows extremely slowly, only three to ten millimeters per year.
The patch that Kemper and I found on our walk down the driveway was decades old and thick with a radius of lichen stretching out ten feet from the center in all directions. The thalli (branches) are interwoven, and the result is a springy, spongy mass. This type of lichen (Cladonia) can be found all over the world, and its name varies as the animals that forage on it change. In the northernmost reaches, it is known as reindeer moss, and further south it is known as caribou moss. Kemper and I even found some in a Jacksonville swamp during a hike, and sure enough, cast in the mud was a hoof print of a small whitetail deer.
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