Lichens, Pacific Northwest
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 BC coast.