What’s not to Lichen?

Yeah. I know – it depends on how you say it – more of which below.
So it was Christine that started me off on this particular blog by sending me a rather nice photo of a lichen, with fruiting bodies, growing on her fence. Here it is:-
Now, somehow, I know not how, she had guessed I’d know something about these plants, though she didn’t know that I really like them and have done since learning about them at A level. Talking of which, it was my A level Botany lecturer that insisted the pronunciation of the word lichen should be ‘liken’ (I have vague memories of her saying that the ‘ch’ was the hard ‘k’ sound because the origin of the work was Greek – as in the word Character) and indeed she was right, though I note the OED also accepts the soft ch sound that many people use. Not that it should be a problem – except when it comes to poetry and there the difference can change a rhyme sequence if the reader is not of the same persuasion in pronunciation as the writer *speaking from experience*.

So back to the lichens, as the leaves fall the lichens become more noticeable, and here in Cornwall we are blessed with many of these wonderful plants. Where I came from we were lucky to see even a close-growing leafy (foliose) lichen, most were the tight colour-patches (crustose) type.
One in particular appears as yellow patches often on stones and walls, (xanthoria) is one of the most tolerant of polluted air and was the main one to be found in the South East of England where I grew up. Lichens derive most of their nutrients from the atmosphere, as they do not have roots, and so most need unpolluted air to thrive.

Photos: Stone Wall showing two different types of Crustose lichen – the grey/white and the yellow.
And one Leprose (powdery) type of lichen (the green coloured one)

So imagine my delight when I came to live in Cornwall where these plants flourish, with not only the crustose and the foliose type but also the branching, bush-like fruticose group of lichens. Lichens are generally slow growing, but these trees were only planted 25 years ago and even the newer wood has the beginnings of lichen invasion.

Photos, Trees showing fruticose and foliose types of lichen. Do click on these images to see them better!

Tree – showing crustose (grey and flecked black) lichen.

I keep just saying ‘these plants’ but of course Lichens are not just any plant, they are actually two plants in a symbiotic relationship, an algae and a fungi , living together to make the most of the resources available and of each others skills in accessing them. The pairing of algae and fungi vary and create the differing types and forms with their strengths and weaknesses.

It is part of what makes Lichens successful in that they are found from the edge of the sea to the highest mountain top and from humid jungles to frozen tundra.
The little branching ones (the fruticose) used to be collected and dried for making model-railway trees and shrubs at one time. Some lichens have been used historically for dying and has even been used a food stuff in very hard times.
Lesson over, but I hope I have piqued your interest in these plants if you’d never considered them before – there is an awful lot more to know if you want to seek it out.


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