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Reindeer Moss isn’t a moss at all. It is a lichen, which is really two plant in one package.

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Leslie Derrenbacker

GARDENER GAL

Dear Gardener Gal: Always enjoy your informative HomeFront articles filled with a wealth of information for us.

I recently was driving through the Pine Ridge area and between the treed area and the road, there were plants/weeds that looked like deer moss. They look like the moss I have purchased for artificial arrangements.

Not knowing what it was, I did not handle it. Any chance it might be dried and used in arrangements? Thank you. — Sheila

Dear Sheila: First off, thank you so much for writing and for the kind words about the column. Much appreciated!

You have indeed spotted reindeer moss or Cladonia spp. Before I address the removal of this plant, a quick lesson on this and other lichens.

Yep, it is actually a lichen, not a moss at all. A lichen is actually two plants working together in a symbiotic relationship. There’s the fungus, whose job is to provide structure, nutrients and protection. The green (or blue-green algae) provides photosynthesis and sugars.

This lichen and its relatives can be found from the Arctic to — well obviously, Florida. There are about 14 species just in North America.

I would certainly expect to see it in Pine Ridge. It likes upland, sandy areas where there have been no fires. While many plant species benefit from fire, this fellow has zero tolerance.

Cladonia is very responsive to the amount of moisture in the air. Find it on a high humidity day — it may be soft and flexible. In dry air or in hot sun it will be stiff and brittle.

Now as to whether or now to collect it for crafts: I believe it would be safe, healthwise and legally. However, not sure it is the right thing to do. Were it growing on your own property and you picked a bit for a project, no one is the wiser and no real impact on the species. You picking it on the side of the road sets a bad example as others may then see it as free craft material as well and follow suit. You and other readers may counter with “there’s lots of it!” Two words: Passenger Pigeon.

The bottom line is, if you take some, be discreet. Oh, and due to our obvious lack of reindeer, I personally feel it would be fine to refer to it as “deer moss” as you have done.

Dear Readers: It’s February and that is the beginning of Spring in Florida. There will still be cold days and probably a least one more frost/freeze event, but make no mistake — it’s time to do Spring chores. Suggestions:

  • LIGHTLY prune Crape Myrtles. No Crape Murder.
  • Cut back your Knock-out roses and ornamental bunch grasses. Still too soon to prune away cold damage. Wait until March.
  • Put down pre-emergent herbicide. In order to catch weed seeds before they germinate, have it down by Valentine’s Day.
  • Relocate any trees and shrubs you want moved while they are still “sleeping.” Hurry.
  • Clean out birdhouses. Nest building starts in February.
  • Mulch. We’ll be in our drought period soon, so try to save the moisture we do get in the next month or so.

Last, but not least, the hot weather is just around the corner so get out and enjoy this season while you can. Chores are EVER so much more fun in February than in June/July/August.

“Gardener Gal” Leslie Derrenbacker is a Master Gardener and native Floridian. Send your questions to askgardenergal@gmail.com.

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