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Party Time in Lichen Land!

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Lichen Land Forest

Here in Lichen Land, the tiny but vast community of lichens, bryophytes and fungi are having a party on the Wintergreen Trail. Cladonia and Peltigera, Stereocaulon and Candelariella, Xanthoparmelia and a small crowd of their crustose friends are sporting fancy apothecia (disc or cup that produces spores) in many shapes and colors. The place is decorated in the brightest colors-turquoise, jade green, yellow, white, black, gray, brown, rust, pale blue. A Cladonia first caught my eye; she was fringed and spangled with intricate weavings of pale green, crowned with a russet  apothecia/cap perched on her tall slender podetia (stalk). Many other Cladonias waved jade colored cups, some fringed and some smooth edged. The Peltigera rufescens, that not long ago sported velvety gray thallus and dramatic, hooded, vase-like apothecia, now were a bit faded in places. But some of them had grown dozens of tiny, white rhizines (root like structures) from the underside of the thallus (the vegetative part of a lichen that contains the photobiant and mycobiont.

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Peltigera sp. in October growing fresh rhizines.

All this elaborate activity goes on within one inch of the ground. A wrong step by a human would destroy many years of growth. But you can join the party; pack a 6x or 10x hand lens, your camera, and just walk into Lichen Site 4. They’ll all be there. Once you step down the two stone steps and turn right, slow down. Stop. Take out the hand lens. Breathe and relax. Even though it’s a party down there, we need to slow down to join up with the Tiny Ones.

Have you ever hunted for 4-leaf clovers? Use the same type of gaze and attitude; you’ll be more successful with lichens because there are so many of them, you can’t miss them. Once a few are seen on the pine needle covered ground you will start to see the stalk-like podetia everywhere. Get down close to them, use your hand lens held close to your eye, then move closer or farther from the lichen to focus, keeping the lens close to your eye.

At ground level the elaborate, fringed structures make a fairyland scene. A few weeks ago, the podetia were straight and smooth pointed stalks. Now they sport cups, caps and fringes. The thallus (the leafy part) may have rhizines, brighter color and also more elaborate shapes.  There are many very tiny lichen growing among the taller ones so be careful where you step! It truly is a forest in miniature, with a canopy, mid layer and ground layer of plants and animals.

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Cladonia sp.

There are several types and species of lichen sharing Cladonia’s forest. Peltigera sp. has been introduced earlier, but there are many more lichen here. On the edge of the narrow pathway, rocks with lichens barely discernible in the summer now are alive with color and texture. These are crustose lichens, and there are quite a few species here. Many

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Crustose lichen on rock with black apothecia
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Foliose lichen on rock

species of crustose lichen on the rocks at this site have produced apothecia. Look for dark spots in the light colored crustose lichen body. Most of the lichen on these rocks are white, gray, or blue-gray. There also are some black crustose lichen here. Look closely with your hand lens to check for apothecia on the black lichen; they are hard to see. How many different species of lichen can you find? These can be very hard to identify without a high powered microscope to see details, and chemicals to test certain reactions lichens may have. At this time, the Lichen Hunters are simply recognizing these are ‘crustose’ forms.

On the low, sandy cliff  (the cliff is 2-3 feet high) at the top of this area, the walls have been decorated in turquoise, green and white. The colors are bright and clear. In the shadows under the rocky overhang, the gauzy, lacy texture of lichen mixed with moss, spider webs and falling grains of sand make a confusing scene. What is lichen, and what is sand grains, or spider webs?

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Stereocaulon sp. (Rock Foam) on sandy cliff face

As the sunbeams illuminated strands of turquoise and green against the dark recesses it seemed to be an endless mass of tangled threads.  Much of the lichen here is probably a Stereocaulon sp. commonly called ‘Rock Foam’. There are several species, some of which, in the arctic, are food for caribou during famine.

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Turquoise foliose lichens on sandy cliff

Pixie Foam, a miniature Stereocaulon species, often grows where there is a high concentration of metals in the rock. Lichens are used all over the world to prospect for minerals by analyzing the mineral content of the lichen thallus. (From  ‘Lichens of the North Woods).

How many species of lichens can you sort out, under the sandy ledge? There are also mosses, ferns and fungi here. How many different life forms can you find, of any kind? This is a rich, active place, yet we know almost nothing about the lives here, or what their place in the world might be.

This visit to Lichen Land left me feeling as if I’d crashed a party. The last time I was here, the lichen were growing podetia  but were much smaller. Today I crossed the threshold of two stone steps into their world, and it had changed dramatically. Colors were brilliant, forms were elaborate; the lichens seemed more alive!  They didn’t seem like the same lichens I’d seen earlier. It was quiet, but I felt there was music and shouting and dancing going on, in a tiny way. It felt like a party.

As I walked away I thought about how the earth, rock, sand, and trees, each have a community of lichen. They are not plants, they are not animals; they are simply something else. What do they weave for the web of life in the world as we know it? Why do they cover such a large part of the earth’s land surface? There are over a hundred species of lichens on the base of the trees in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. We don’t know how many different ones are in the canopy, or the soil or on the rocks here. Everything in Nature has a place and a purpose. The Lichen Hunters are exploring what that might be for the lichens in the Kickapoo. Come on out for a walk in the woods and help us learn about the Tiny Ones.

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Cladonia sp. and moss on rock

Lichens and Volcanoes

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Lava erupts from a fissure east of the Leilani Estates subdivision during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano
Huffington Post image of Kilauea’s lava flow 

The past several months watching Kilauea’s changes as she wakes up has been fascinating. I have friends who have a home in this area, so there is a personal interest in what is happening there. As we adjust to the losses and changes for the humans, we are also respectful of Pele’s part in creating the lovely land we know as Hawaii. She knows what she is doing, and over time the foundation she lays for all other life will again support the abundance we are familiar with. After Pele cools off, what happens? For an entertaining account of the volcanic process, read Krakatoa by Simon Winchester

As the lava cools, the new earth is immediately colonized by bacteria that comes floating in on air currents. Also carried by the air are tiny seeds, bits of soil from other places, and…….lichens! Lichens are the first life to colonize the new earth, beginning to add organic matter to the surface as they grow and die, and they also begin their work of moderating the surface temperature and moisture content. They provide shelter for the first insects, who also blow in on the wind, or crawl from adjacent areas. Then the birds and lizards come to eat the insects and lichens, and then the tiny mammals, snakes, and gradually the forest reappears.

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Usnea sp from canopy in Kickapoo Valley Reserve

Mt. St. Helens in Oregon, has changed dramatically after the eruption 35 years ago. This mountain was covered more in ash than lava, so many of the plants reappeared from under the ash; life did not have to restart from the tiniest bacteria and lichen spores.

Crustose lichens on rock in Columbia River valley, British Columbia
Crustose lichens on rock in Columbia River valley, British Columbia

Where there is any live topsoil nearby an area such as an industrial site or monocultured agriculture land, where no life has been for some time, the lichens are not always the first to live in those barren places. Seeds already are present, if not in the exposed earth they are nearby, and easily move into a barren area. But the lichens do appear on soil very soon, and when any trees have been growing for a few years, the lichens begin to appear.

The Hawaiian volcano process is a rapid “movie” of how life begins on new earth. Variations of that process occur everywhere, but are less easily observed. Check on science websites or local Hawaiian park sites or private blogs, USGS info, for news on how the land and life changes on the newly formed land.

Happy Lichen hunting!

 

Birds, Flowers, Frogs, Bats…..Lichens!

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Aren’t the colors amazing?

It’s summer! We are in the season of Frog Walks, night time Bat Surveys, Birding Events, star gazing nights and more. The extravagant displays of color and sound, the always changing feast for the eyes is at it’s best in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve.

Many of us review our familiarity with birds and plants we consider old friends, as they reappear each spring and summer. What have you learned recently, that is completely new, about the ecosystem you are part of? Now that you know at least some of the birds, flowers, trees, bats, mammals and even fungi and insects, what else could be here?

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Lots of pretty but hard to identify crustose lichens on a rock

Learning about lichens and their relatives in the fungi world is a good place to start because most of us have not thought much about these neighbors. An essential part of the natural world as we know it is made up of fungi and LICHENS. Lichens influence and in some ways may control the environment. Lichens are everywhere- rock, tree surfaces, and on the ground. Lichens are at least as diverse as any other group of organisms. Lichens are present every day of the year. Lichens may be enjoyed as you canoe down the river, walk on a trail, or sit under a tree watching birds. Lichens are colorful, beautiful, endlessly varied and so easy to get close to.

Take some time to read this website’s information, look at the lichen books at the KVR while you relax in the Visitor Center, and go for a lichen hike with a friend, or give me a call and we’ll go visit Lichen Land to see who’s there this time of year.

Join the KVR Lichen Project this year. Learn about lichens; the world of nature that you think you know will expand dramatically. Becoming familiar with lichens opens a doorway to the ‘web of life’ that all are part of. We mostly see individual parts; the bird, the tree, the river….but none of those are what they are without all the others they relate  to aand interact with. Lichens are quintessential collaborators, cooperators, adaptors. Many of the other residents you are familiar with are dependent on lichens to some degree. What can we learn about those relationships?

While the lichens moderates the climate for the tree it lives on, the tree moderates the climate for the earth under it and all that live there, and  moderates the air space it occupies, affecting all the air interacts with, on so on the web spreads. How many more relationships like this surround us? What happens when those interactive webs are changed or destroyed? What can we do to steward the health and survival of webs of life we do not understand well? How can we learn to see these connections better, to foster our understanding of what is going on around us?

Learning about lichens and becoming familiar with them as part of the beautiful world you interact with on your hikes and other activities in the green world is one way to enlarge your perspective and through that, your effectiveness in caring for both the KVR and the larger green world around us.

Lichens are a bit harder to find in the depths of summer greenery. Look on exposed rocks especially along the river. Lichens as well as mosses and liverworts abound on river cliffs. The lower parts of tree trunks are always easy to observe and have many lichen species growing on them. Notice the different lichens on different tree species. There are also some lichen species that seem to grow on many tree species. What could be the reason some grow almost everywhere and others are very particular about their location?

Wet weather wakes up lichens. Their colors are bright and they are actively photosynthesizing and reproducing. Take a picture, and compare it with the same lichen at another time of year, when conditions are dry. The lichen may be almost unrecognizable as the same one you saw on a wet day.

Enjoy the lichens wherever you find them this summer. Post a message here if you see any lichens you’d like to share!

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Letharia vulpina on conifer in British Columbia

Winter at the Lichen Sites

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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.

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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?

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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.

Susan

Lichen’s Friends Help Monitor Pollution

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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 use bryophytes (mosses) to monitor air quality.

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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.

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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.

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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.

A Drive-By Lichen Viewing Site

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View of Lichen Site at County P and Cut Off Road

The KVR has the first ever Drive-By Lichen Viewing Site! Yes, you now can see lichens without even getting out of your car. I do not recommend this, but if it’s raining, it’s ok to roll down the windows and take a quick look, then come back later and walk around.

The official name of this site is “Cut Off and County P” lichen site. It is located east of Highway 131 and Bridge 10, on County P at the intersection of Cut Off Road. There are no markers at this site, as it is on the road right of way, but it is easy to get to and hard to miss. Once you are here, please do get out and walk around. Check the details of this site and the lichens living here by going to the Lichen Site tab on the main page.

There are several special aspects to this site. The first is the easy access. There are numerous places to search for lichens in the immediate area as well as right on the roadside cliffs.

North of Cty P cliff
Trees and cliff near Cut Off and County P site

Secondly, the cliffs on each side of the road are directly exposed to the chemicals and poisons expelled in our car exhaust as we drive through the narrow channel made by the rock walls. This may be the site most affected by air pollution on the reserve. Another interesting aspect of this site is that one cliff faces north and one faces south. The north facing cliff gets almost no direct sunlight, and is black in color.

North facing rock cliff at County P and Cut Off road Lichen Site

The south facing cliff is in full sun all year long and shows the usual brown colors of sandstone. Each surface has a different mix of plants, lichens, and fungi. Throughout the year the populations of each change in size, color and quantity.

South facing rock cliff at County P and Cut Off Road Lichen Site

 

Moss and lichen on north facing cliff
Lichen on south facing cliff

Most of the lichens at this site are crustose type, but there are also several  foliose species here. If you search the nearby trees and some of the cliffs farther back in the forest, you may find some fruticose lichens too. Usually fruticose lichens are more sensitive to air pollution so if you find any of that type of lichen at this roadside site, please let us know, and take a picture of it for our records.

Turquoise and green Lepraria sp., orange Candelaria concolor, gray Physcia sp.

How many different crustose lichen can you see on each cliff face? What lichens are only on one cliff face and not the other cliff? This is an easy site to visit periodically. When you come back, are there different colors on the rocks? Can you find more lichens or less, than the last time you looked? Send your observations to the Lichen Project, and be part of  Citizen Science explorations!

Thanks for visiting the KVR Lichen Project. Come visit us in Lichen Land!

 

 

Beatrix Potter – Mycologist and Lichen Researcher

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Beatrix Potter, Mycologist: The Beloved Children’s Book Author’s Little-Known Scientific Studies and Illustrations of Mushrooms

Excerpt from Maria Popova, Brain Pickings:

By her early twenties, Potter had developed a keen interest in mycology and began producing incredibly beautiful drawings of fungi, collecting mushroom specimens herself and mounting them for careful observation under the microscope. In the winter months, she frequented London’s Natural History Museum to study their displays.  Linda Lear, author of Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature writes:

Beatrix’s interest in drawing and painting mushrooms, or fungi, began as a passion for painting beautiful specimens wherever she found them. She never saw art and science as mutually exclusive activities, but recorded what she saw in nature primarily to evoke an aesthetic response. She was drawn to fungi first by their ephemeral fairy qualities and then by the variety of their shape and colour and the challenge they posed to watercolour techniques. Unlike insects or shells or even fossils, fungi also guaranteed an autumn foray into fields and forests, where she could go in her pony cart without being encumbered by family or heavy equipment.”

There is also something quite poetic about Potter’s obsession with fungi — in her later children’s books, she bridged real life and fantasy by transmuting the animals and plants she observed in nature into whimsical characters and stories, and mushrooms have long symbolized this very transmutation, perhaps most prominently in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, which first captured the popular imagination the year Potter was born.

But her interest went far beyond the mere aesthetics or symbolism of mushrooms — she was studious about their taxonomy, taught herself the proper technique for accurate botanical illustration, and worked tirelessly to get an introduction to the eminent mycologist Charles McIntosh. With his help and encouragement, she continued advancing her microscopic observations, which kindled in her an intense fascination with how mushrooms reproduced — something poorly understood at the time. Potter soon began conducting her own experiments with spores she had germinated herself. She was particularly captivated by lichens, considered at the time the “poor peasants of the plant world,” in the words of the great botanist Linnaeus — a statement itself belying the dearth of scientific understanding at the time, for lichens are not plants but a hybrid of fungi and algae.  more

New Resources for the KVR Lichen Project

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lichens of NA book

The KVR Lichen Project now has a copy of ‘Lichens of North America’ at the Visitor Center reference library. This is a book to get lost in. It is comprehensive, with beautiful images and extensive identification information. If you find a lichen, it will probably be in this book.  When you find a lichen, take a few good photos, remember to peak underneath if the lichen is a foliose or fruticose structure, then sit down with this book and see what you can learn. And while enjoying the book, consider joining the Friends of the KVR.

I’d like to thank the Friends of the KVR for their generous grant to the Lichen Project, for the purchase of this book and other materials. The Friends of the KVR supports and funds many projects at the Reserve. They also spend countless hours volunteering at events throughout the year. Check out how your participation in the Friends of the KVR can help our very special Kickapoo Valley Reserve.

The Lichen Project now has a Celestron digital microscope, hand lenses, a black light flashlight, and several reference books. A special addition this month is the new booklet ‘Common Lichens of Wisconsin’ written by James P. Bennett and published by the Wisconsin State Herbarium. This is very useful to carry on your hikes for quickly looking up some of the common lichens in our area. Thank you Dr. Bennett for this booklet.

Common lichens of Wisconsin

Now, i’m off to the woods to look at lichens. After all the wet weather lately, the lichens, moss and fungi are growing and blooming.