Herbs and Other Plant Species of the World's Boreal Forests

World Boreal Trees

Terminology | Pictorial

Cetraria islandica
Iceland Moss

A fruticose lichen, growing in colonies 5 - 20 cm across.


Iceland Moss Distinguishing Features - Small to medium brown-coloured thallus growing loosely on the soil. Usually tufted, many lobed, and irregularly branched. Cushionlike growth, well suited to high winds in harsh environments. Draws water slowly and can endure prolonged wet periods.


Alaska, south to the Pacific Northwest, throughout Canada's boreal regions to the Great Lakes states; New England, and in alpine regions of the Appalachians to Tennessee; occurs in various habitats including heaths, dunes, coastal plains, lichen woodlands, bogs, meadows, and tundra; also in forested sites and rock crevices; grows best in direct sun, and can grow on shallow, sterile soils. Because it is able to draw moisture from the air, the underlying soil is not as important a source of moisture as it is to vascular plants.


Lichens quite often serve as the flash point of ignition in woodlands and tundra and have an essential role in the spread of fire. Dry lichens resemble dead litter more than live tissue in their susceptibility to fire. Continuous lichen mats present an uninterrupted surface along which fire spreads. Lichen mats typically accumulate tree and shrub litter which adds to flammability.

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