I‘ve blogged about moss before, that carpet of jewelled green that enthrals me,
and lichen does the same. Lichen has the same delicate natural beauty
clinging to crumbling walls, to trees, and swathing the local woodlands.
I don’t think there is any trouble with lichen, yep, I’m a John Wyndham fan, but we haven’t yet decided if lichen is the fountain of youth – it may be, but that’s another story!
I love how lichen decorates trees and rocks, swathing walls, finding its way into nooks and crannies in an almost microscopic way. Moss and lichen create drapery and carpets for our woodlands and forests in the UK. You can also find them on rocks and cliffs at the beach, surviving in deserts and seemingly barren terrain, and in the Rainforests, and upon snowy mountain ridges. They can be found across the planet from Antarctica to the Equator and back to the Arctic.
It is thought lichens were probably the first flora ever to adorn the earth… We have used it for antibiotic compounds, scents in perfumes, and much in science. Beatrix Potter also studied lichens and drew them for scientific works before Peter Rabbit grew in fame! Before synthetic dyes were produced, soft greens, brown, yellows, and even orange, red, and blue dyes could be made from lichens. It’s also been used to date rocks and glaciers. There are Arctic lichens that have lived for more than 4,000 years…
The observance of lichen can show the health of an area. They left cities during the Industrial Revolution, due to sulphur dioxide in the air from burning coal, but as we move away from coal lichen are reappearing in many areas they were once lost to. Pollution obstructs them and lichen growth shows purity and clean air.
I find calm in the beauty of nature and examining the curls of leafy Foliose lichen, the spread of flat Crustose, the scales or squidgy pebbles of Squamulose, and the fascinating stalks of shrubby Fruticose lichen take me to a world of tranquillity.
Lichen is not a single organism – it is a symbiotic relationship between fungus, and algae and/or cyanobacteria. Moss and lichen don’t have root systems, they anchor themselves with rhizoids. They don’t draw nourishment from the ground but through photosynthesis, air and water. They hold many times their own weight in water and aid the forest as sponging, cooling and humidifying systems. They are also able to go dormant when they’re under stress.
Ever wonder why slugs and snails don’t feed on them? They have a bitter taste, unpalatable to slugs and snails. They are basic necessity within nature, as food, as nesting and den material, soil preparation, and they benefit the whole ecosystem.
Lastly, some varieties have a high tolerance of radiation, and they are so hardy they have even been known to survive outer space – in 2005 an ESA (European Space Agency) experiment took them out of our atmosphere for two weeks, and upon re-entry they survived and thrived.
Maybe we really will find life out there, maybe in the form of lichen…
or maybe, just maybe, they’ll be the toughest thing to survive this planet,
long after we have gone…