So, after the wind storm, which seems not to have lived up to major storm watch warnings, out I went to collect lichens. In the photo on the masthead above, the light green color on the oaks is their thick covering of lichen – easily seen when the leaves are off in the winter. Lichens get blown out of the trees quite easily, and whole branches and twigs often litter the ground after a good storm (below you can see the green blobs that are those branches):
It’s always interesting to walk around the path that winds through the woodland and savanna. There are wonderful surprises in the landscape. For instance, now that the humidity hovers around 80% – 99% the mosses and lichens are in full swing. During the winter they green up when most plants are dormant; reproductive structures pop out when conditions are best for spore germination. [My previous lichen post may be instructive for what follows.]
The round structures on the tips of the lichen above are called apothecia; they contain the spores. But what strikes me is the blue-green octopus that is the lichen body – combined with the apothecia it looks like an extraterrestrial organism.
Here’s an example of the colorful abundance of lichens. This branch I picked up – and yes, there is a branch under there – is a little over 2 feet long, and 1/2″ thick at its narrow end. There are at least seven or eight species of lichens and two kinds of moss crowded onto the surface, totally obscuring the actual branch. Some lichens grow on others in a multilayered cacophony. Just imagine the surface area created by these lichens and mosses, providing a place for algae, algae-eaters, and other microorganisms and invertebrates to flourish. Birds often find tasty morsels among them, and also use lichens to build nests. There is so much diversity of life on a single oak branch, add to that the vertical structure they provide, and it is easy to see why they are so important.
Lichen dyes for yarn and wool. Here is one of the dyed samples using Lobaria pulmonaria (left). The dye color depends on chemistry and is unrelated to the lichen color.