I am amazed at the duress lichens will cause some people. They view lichens as a sign of death or decay and strategize to bleach it from existence. True they are found on stationary imperfect objects like grave stones or the north side of slow growing trees, but what keeps us from appreciating their natural beauty? Lichens are an intimate relationship of fungal filaments and algae creating a natural mosaic of art. The fungus protects the algae from the mean world out there and helps collect minerals and water. The algae in turn can photosynthesize making food like plants do and fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. In this intimate relationship it shares some of that with the fungus. It’s like a quid pro quo you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours intimate relationship of organisms. Who would want to break that up? She lichens me, she lichens me not. In the plant world we call the relationship a mutual symbiosis because they both benefit from the association. There are thousands of different species of lichens and in some cases it gets kinky. The relationship becomes a threesome of a fungus, a green algae and a blue green algae. Sounds like a joke, a fungus and two algae walk into a bar.
Lichens are sometimes called Reindeer moss or Icelandic moss even though they are not mosses or plants. Because they tend to inhabit plants that are under stress or slow growing or in decline people tend to believe that lichens are killing their plant. They want to wipe them out with a scorched earth approach. Lichens are simply using the surface to make love not war. Live and let live. As a matter of fact the presence of lichens can indicate a healthy environment with little pollution. Wiping them out is as sad as coming between Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. William Shakespeare gave Romeo and Juliet their moment. As with Napoleon and Josephine or Antony and Cleopatra the love of a fungus and an algae can be love at first sight and happens fast. Why would you want to come between them? You might be altering the course of history if you do.
Fast fact you might “lichen”…..There are approximately 20,000 different lichen species in the world. A species called Old Man’s Beard is used to start fires. The Bushmen also inhale the smoke to help get rid of a bad cough.
Then there is the mid-winter walk through the woods when we get a much needed and anticipated thaw. A break from the system after system winter weather advisories that become as monotonous and boring as groundhog day. Sorry Phil but I’m not a big fan of winter either. When a thaw occurs you celebrate any sign of life. As the deer scrounge the forest floor for anything vegetation, the human eye can appreciate the florescent and chartreuse glow of a patch of moss. The colorful platforms of shelf fungi. And playful patterns of lichens as they texture the landscape giving all of us something other than snow and ice to peruse.