Month: April 2018

Winter at the Lichen Sites

Posted on

Lichen Site ice
Cty P and Cutoff Rd Lichen Site

After the past two weeks of snow, ice, ice, rain, ice, rain……and then a lot of snow, the ice formations on the rocks along County P were especially large and beautiful. This is the rock face on the south side of Cty P, under a wall of icicles. The sun is out and in a day the ice will be gone and the lichens and their associates will carry on photosynthesizing and adjusting their environment chemically and physically and maybe in ways we can’t yet imagine. Even now they are not totally dormant, as it is not extremely cold.

Next week I’ll post a quick review of this site and at least one other one, as I begin checking on how each location is changing, who is living there or active now and simply to record the beautiful colors and shapes.

DR R 11-17s
Xanthoria elegans

This year I will try to improve my skills using the Celestron microscope in the field, to get better images of very close up details without having to remove so much sample material from the lichen bodies. Can we improve on the standard scientific observation and measurement procedures? I think so! They are valuable, and yet almost always entail the death of whatever we want to look at, or at least inflicting damage. We endure those procedures on ourselves for our medical treatments, but do draw the line at severe maiming or killing to get a test result. That criteria could be applied to our interactions for ‘test results’ from other living beings too. Who knows how much we could learn by changing the way we observe?

DR R 11-17w
Phaeophyscia sp.


One of the reasons this interests me is that the more we re-learn about whatever or whoever we are studying, the more we realize we haven’t hardly a clue about what they know or do or how they all interact together. By de-emphasizing the mechanistic, objective perspectives just a bit, and re-orienting toward slowing down, staying present, observing over time and from new and different perspectives, a world alive with possibilities we have ignored may open to us. Who knows what will happen then? Exploring these ideas does not take away from useful information and techniques for getting it that we use now. But there is plenty of that being done, and I believe, too little listening and watching. So as well as trying to get the taxonomy as correct as possible, and taking some samples when needed, I’m going to share the Lichen’s place in the world with you in as many other ways as come to mind, as we wander the trails and hillsides of the KVR and beyond.

Check in once in a while this year, for adventures with the Tiny Ones.


Lichen’s Friends Help Monitor Pollution

Posted on

Lichens have been used for many years, in many places around the world, to monitor air pollution. Lichens absorb almost anything in the air, and then can tell us what substances are there that are invisible to us. Now humans are beginning to also useĀ bryophytes (mosses) to monitor air quality.

Moss and lichen on rock – Wintergreen Trail, Kickapoo Valley Reserve

The mosses change in many ways in response to the poisons we put into the air. Lichens have been mostly used to measure the substances they have absorbed, but the study of mosses in polluted air is looking at the changes in the moss too.

Here in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, the newest lichen observation site, at the intersection of County P and Cutoff Road, provides a glimpse of how lichens and moss respond to pollution even in a place that seems clean to us. The rock walls at this intersection hold the poisons spewed from our cars, and the lichen and mosses growing here are different than ones growing away from the concentrated toxins along the road.

It is an easy place to view lichen that can survive these conditions. Then, take a walk along the Wintergreen Trail, where numerous different lichen and moss can be seen as they change through the seasons. All forms of lichen can be found in this area: foliose, crustose, fruticose.

Lecanora thysanophora +HO trail 6-17
Lichens on tree in KVR

On the rocks by the roadway, there are only limited species of crustose and if you look carefully you may find some small foliose.

CO R south facing- 10-17a
Lichen on roadside rock

There are countless ways that our Kin in the natural world around us talk to us about what is going on and even what we are doing. Learning to listen and understand is an important part of our being able to change enough to do more than survive in the future, it is essential for our ability to thrive and live well. Learning to listen, then understand is similar to learning a new language. English is not spoken by trees, fungi, birds or any of our Kin, with some small exceptions. We however are easily multi-lingual and have the responsibility of learning the language of those older and wiser than us.

The Tiny Ones often have important things to say. Even if you don’t ‘know their language’ the observations made by researchers share with all of us some of what lichens and their friends are doing to live in a polluted world, and what these small, seemingly insignificant lives can teach us.

As the snow melts, the lichen are taking on brighter colors and are very easy to see. Take your hand lens when you go walking. Look closely at the lichens. It’s a good time to see some of their elaborate, beautiful structures and colors.