Time to get enLichened

Submitted February 20, 2013 at 8:12 AM

Inconspicuous but ubiquitous, lichens exist in every one of our gardens in myriad colors and forms. Winter is a great time to notice these often overlooked treasures peaking out from rocks, soil, and branches throughout the garden.

We spotted 8 different lichens in this photo includin; Candelaria sp. (yellow), Caloplaca sp. (orange), Physica sp. (leafy gray-blue), Aspicilia spp. (white, brown, and black), and two unknowns (gray and black). The two green bunches on the ledge are bryophytes and are less than a half inch tall.

Yellow Candelaria sp. and orange Xanthoria sp. grow along the leafy gray Physica sp.. Physica lichens live in the Mojave desert in temperatures above 120F and in Antarctica at -70F where they can photosynthesize under over a foot of snow.

Our great wall offers a beautiful display of lichens, including the orange Caloplaca sp. and the lovely green Lecanora sp. which is used in toiletries including perfumes, toothpastes and sunscreens.

Sandstone blocks make a welcoming home for the gray and black Aspicilia sp. lichen that has been used for centuries to create a red-brown dye in Europe.

A white Aspicilia sp. grows with the brown Circinaria sp. which is related to the lichen thought to be manna from the Bible and Koran.

Xanthoria sp. and Candelaria lichens decorate our oak trees in a brilliant display of orange and yellow. Lichens are often mistaken for a disease on trees, but they are not harmful.

Here the gray and black Amandinea sp. can be seen competing for territory with a bright white Acarospora sp. Many lichens conduct "warfare" in which offspring are dispersed to nearby lichens, where they parasitize or compete to overtake the lichen they land on.

An unknown lichen creates interesting black circular patterns. Lichens are notoriously difficult to identify and offer a wealth of opportunities to those who want to study and enrich the body of knowledge on these amazing life forms.

Composed of a fungi and a green algae or cyanobacteria, lichens have been called "fungi that discovered agriculture" by famed lichenologist Trevor Goward. The fungal component provides a hardy and vigorous home and the photosynthetic partner produces food. This successful symbiosis allows lichens to live on every continent and all climates and altitudes. The German Aerospace Center has recently conducted studies showing that lichens could even survive on Mars! On Earth these petite but powerful lichens are an integral component of all ecosystems. As primary successors, they are first on the scene working to create soils from rock and organic debris that plants can then colonize. Lichens are likely one of the first organisms to live on land, literally breaking ground for the colonization of higher plants and animals. Today we utilize lichens for medicines, foods, dyes, toiletries, decorations and indicators of air pollution. Other animals utilize lichens for food, shelter and building materials. Take a break today and enjoy a journey of discovery in our lichen enriched garden.

Photos by Sarah Anderson and Jason Baker
Note: These lichens were identified based on morphology only, no chemical tests or spore examinations were performed.

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