Lichens

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Lichens, Pacific Northwest

Common Orange Lichen. Vancouver Island, BC, Lichens
Common Orange Lichen, Photo By Bud Logan

Lichens come in all kinds of colors and shapes, they can be gray, light brown, dark brown, orange, red, deep green or any combination of colors, they grow on rock, wood, both dead and live, trees, even barren ground, the most amazing thing about them is the variety of these colors and shapes

They grow on every part of the Pacific Northwest region and when you start to look for them, you will realize that they are so very abundant and so very pretty to see, take a very close look and you will be amazed at their beauty. They are everywhere.

Lobaria Pulmonaria Lichen, Vancouver Island, BC, Lichens
Lobaria Pulmonaria Lichen, Photo By Robert Logan

They were long thought of as just plants, they are so much like them that it was just assumed they were plants. They were ignored by botanists and were hardly given a thought or studied by most. But they are not plants, they have no roots or go about living like plants, they are actually two completely different entities that support each other, one is a fungus, the other is an algae. The nature of this close relationship is still being studied, although lichens are commonly referred to as the standard example of a symbiosis. This is when two living things gain benefits from living together. Lichens also feed the forest.

Nail Lichen, Vancouver Island, BC, Lichens
Nail Lichen, Photo By Robert Logan

Lichens are healers and bringers of life, did you know that lichens that grow up in the trees are able to absorb nitrogen right from the air, they have no roots and are unable to photosynthesize so they need another way to get nutrients for life. Once these lichens fall or are blown free from the trees, they come to the ground and then the nitrogen is released as the lichens break down and is taken up by the roots of the trees and plants. Thus feeding the forest. The ability of the roots to absorb this bounty is helped by the mycelium of other fungi. There is quite an amazing sequence of events that happen in this process. This process works well in old growth forests but is almost non existent in new replanted forests. New forests must be manually fertilized.

Lobaria Oregana, Vancouver Island, BC, Lichens
Lobaria Oregana, Photo By Bud Logan

Commonly three different growth forms of lichens may be distinguished: crustose, foliose and fruticose. Crustose lichens grow on the rock or other substrate, they are tightly attached and they cannot be removed without damage. Foliose lichens have both an upper and a lower surface. They grow flat and their lower surface grows tightly on the substrate but they can usually be removed without to much damage. Fruticose lichens are the most like looking of the lichens and grow upright like a miniature bush, they come in many forms.

Pixie Cup Lichen, Vancouver Island, BC
Pixie Cup Lichen, Photo By Bud Logan

Sometimes forming beautiful little gardens when growing on the forest floor. As you walk through our islands forests, look down, there you just might see these tiny gardens, gardens more grand than any of the majestic forests. These gardens usually grow on the fallen logs and in hidden corners of the forest. Surrounded by ferns, tree seedlings and small plants, minute forests of lichens that have small, grayish green leaves. They cover the log with tiny scenes of beauty. This  repeats itself all over the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Forked Tube Lichen, Lichens, Pacific Northwest
Fork Tube Lichen, Photo By Bud Logan
The Forked Tube Lichen has a thallus that is pale olive gray to ivory yellow, to ivory and flat and spreading. It is small to medium sized, 5 to12 cm. It is loosely attached to the substratum and slightly inflated. It is irregularly divided into many narrow lobes, quite often becoming crowded towards the center.

The ascendant tips are recurved shaped with the black or brown under surface showing on the edge of the lobes. The tips of the lobes often brown. Its a pretty lichen, always impressive to see it.

Forked Tube Lichen grows abundantly in the Pacific Northwest and if you just look around in our coastal forests, you will see it. Lichens grow on every part of the Pacific Northwest and when you start to look for them, you will realize that they are very abundant and so very pretty to see, take a very close look and you will be amazed at their beauty.

Oak Moss Lichen, Lichens, Pacific Northwest
Oak Moss, Photo By Bud Logan
Oak moss is a species of fruticose lichen that is valued for its oriental fragrance and as a fixative base. It grows throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere.

The pale greenish gray thallus is up to 8 cm long and is palmately branched. The upper surface is green with pale gray reproductive bodies, Oak moss can vary in color, being minty green or almost white when dry, or dark olive green and even yellowish when wet. The under surface is whitish with a faint net-like pattern. This bushy lichen is very short, flat and has a strap like thallus that somewhat resembles the shape of deer antlers.

Oak moss was used in perfumery as early as the 16th century, although baskets filled with it have been found in the ancient royal tombs of Egypt, but whether it was intended for perfume or for food is not known as oak moss does contain a starchy edible substance.

A mixture of acids extracted from it is also used in drugs for treating external wounds and infections.

Parmotrema Perlatum Lichen, Lichens, Pacific Northwest
Parmotrema Perlatum Lichen, Photo By Bud Logan
Parmotrema Perlatum Lichen is a leafy lichen with a grey green thallus that is loosely attached to tree branches, cement walls or rocks, it grows all over the Pacific Northwest.

A single specimen can grow to about 15 cm in size. The lobes that make up the thallus are up to 15 mm in wide. The lobes have wavy edges and are raised up from the surface where it grows and contains soralia. The underside is dark and quite black towards the center and the edge of the lobes are a earthy brown in color. The edge itself is black, thus its common name of black edged leaf lichen.

This lichen grows best in old growth forests, it grows on trees usually along the branches, it is capable of absorbing nitrogen from the air and when the lichen falls to the forest floor, it releases the nitrogen into the soil, thus food for its host trees. It is a forest healer, usually only found in old growth forests.

Reindeer Moss Lichen, Lichens, Pacific Northwest
Reindeer Moss, Photo By Bud Logan
Reindeer Moss Lichen grows in arctic and northern regions around the world. It grows on the ground and on rocks. It looks like a green spongy moss, and grows to be up to 10 cm high. The stems, or stocks, are hollow, and branch out many times. Although it is called reindeer moss, it is actually a lichen. It grows on the whole coastal region of BC.

Lichens are two separate organisms. They are made up of fungi and algae, which live and grow together. The spongy threads of lichens support and protects the algae. The algae produces chlorophyll which can make food. The fungi can fix nitrogen from the air as a fertilizer, together, their needs are provided. This is called a symbiotic relationship.

Lichen can survive for long periods of time without water. They just dry out and go dormant. They will grow again when moisture is again present.

Reindeer Moss Lichen, Lichens, Pacific Northwest
Reindeer Moss, Photo By Bud Logan
Animals such as caribou, feed on lichen during the coldest periods of the season. They do this because it is one of the only food that is available when the weather is cold and there is little other vegetation left. It has lots of carbohydrates that give the deer energy to make body heat. They have special microorganisms in their stomachs which let them digest lichen. Very few other animals can eat lichens.

People are afraid that the reindeer are dying from eating lichens. Lichens absorb pollutants and chemicals that fall with the rain and as they eat this and if they get enough, it kills them.

Lichens are commercially grown in Scandinavia to make a powder that thickens soups and desserts. It is very rich in vitamins A and B. They boil it until its soft. They use it in all kinds of their foods. They also make a tea out of it as a medicine for diarrhea.

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