Latest Event Updates
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: The Beloved Children’s Book Author’s Little-Known Scientific Studies and Illustrations of Mushrooms
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
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.
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.
The spring Lichen Hunting Season will get started Wednesday March 29th at the Nuzum Talk at the KVR Visitor Center. Come on out and have a conversation about lichens with me! You can have a snack and relax with friends and see and learn about a hidden world.
Learn how to enter and explore this magical, hidden world. Visit with your friends, enjoy a snack, and find out about the KVR Lichen Project. We have a wonderful new microscope that will be set up for you to look at lichens up close, where lichens show off their beautiful structures and colors.
Meanwhile, the damp weather is great for lichens. They are very active now and colors are bright and easily seen. Look around at the trees nearby. The bright green and blues and white are all lichens that have gone from dormant and dry to moist and actively growing, photosynthesizing and reproducing. It’s the best time to look closely. Use a small hand lens if you have one. As little as 10x magnification brings a completely different view of what a lichen looks like. Remember to look for lichens on rocks and even undisturbed soil.
See you Wednesday, at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve!
Slime molds first came to my attention in the Big Thicket region of south east Texas. Several winters on a tree-planting crew there provided a very close-up look at the life on the ground in that fascinating region. Coastal ecosystem life meets savannah and prairie and they all mix together; the diversity of plant and animal was amazing (where it wasn’t clearcut.) Slime molds were neon colored orange and yellow. They were jelly like blobs, flat smears and tentacled, and translucent, and changed all the time. They did not look like anything else in the landscape. (In many places the napalmed, deforested land did not have much else alive on the surface.) The slime molds, sundews and a few hardy small plants were the remnants and re-colonizers of the wasted land, so they showed up well against the scorched earth. slime mold images
At the time i knew nothing about what they were, but never forgot the experience of first seeing those brilliant blobs. Recently, my friend Leslie, who is a excellent at finding interesting things in the world, brought slime molds back to my attention captive slime mold. As the video of the captive slime molds played, it seemed so clear that humans need to develop a new paradigm, a new perspective, about life.
As friends gather around a tiny lichen on a tree trunk, and wonder about its complexity, we are only starting to realize how much we not only don’t know, but are flat wrong about the world we live in. The slime molds are simple compared to lichens, yet when we look closely, and are willing to see what we are looking at, we must question our preconceptions about ‘how things are’. Slime mold should amaze us, then look at moss, and then look at lichens. Amazement becomes confusion, questioning, curiosity; awe is the inescapable, final experience.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
Many lichen cannot be named unless they are observed when in a fertile state. One common crustose lichen in the Appalachian region has been observed for many years but never seen reproducing. That changed when a large number of fertile lichen were found on the top of Hangover Mountain in western North Carolina. They were common in many areas but this was the first time anyone had seen them in a fertile state. These lichen were then named….for Dolly Parton. Japewiella dollypartoniana now had a formal name and characteristics to identify it in the future.
Jessica L. Allen and James C. Lendemer, who made the discovery and published their findings in 2015, described the lichen as “….distinguished from other species of Japewia and Japewiella by its sorediate thallus and production of norstictic acid….”. There is more technical description of the lichen that follows.
Japewiella dollypartoniana is described as new to science based on material from the Appalachian Mountains and adjacent regions of the Atlantic Coastal Plain. It is distinguished from other species of Japewia and Japewiella by its sorediate thallus and production of norstictic acid. Placement in Japewiella is supported by characters from fertile populations discovered in the Unicoi Mountains of western North Carolina which have apothecia that resemble those of Japewia tornoënsis (Nyl.) Tønsberg but differ in having a well-developed proper exciple and ascospores without a thick, gelatinous sheath.
Did you know that many, maybe most lichens have some antibiotic properties? Animals and birds know this and eat or use lichens in various ways that may help them stay healthy. One common use of lichens is as a construction material in bird nests. The lichens may help keep baby birds disease free. Many birds use lichens, so look for nests especially when the leaves fall off the trees in autumn and nests are easier to find, and notice how many may have some lichens incorporated. If you can figure out what species of bird made the nest, that’s even better. Please let the Lichen Hunters know of your find.
It is not for us to know all the reasons a blue -gray gnatcatcher builds its home with lichens, but I can think of several possible reasons. Of course one reason is the known antibiotic property of the lichen; a built in disinfectant, in the walls of this perfect little home! Another reason may be that lichens are beautiful; the lovely blue-gray color the gnatcatcher likes in the lichens can be found in elegant home decor magazines, for human homes. Maybe the blue-gray gnatcatcher is matching its own color by using the same color of lichen on its nest walls, as we would wear harmonious colors because they are pleasing to see. Another reason may be that the flat surface of the foliose lichen may be somewhat water resistant and makes a nice solid surface. Also, since the lichens grow on the tree branches, covering the nest with the same lichen is good camouflage, hiding the chicks who would be a tasty treat for many predators, as well as the adult birds when they are resting on the nest.
Years ago I found a hummingbird nest made of lichens, in an apple tree. The nest was the size of a thimble. I considered it a small miracle that branch appeared right in front of me while picking apples.
This lovely photograph is from Paul and Bernadette Hayes. They recently found the nest about 10 feet up in a box elder tree, on a horizontal branch. It is the home of a bluegray gnatcatcher. Thank you Paul and Bernadette.
Discovering a well made birds nest covered in lichen is a lucky find. Please share your discoveries so we can learn about the birds in our home territory that use lichens.
We may be hearing a lot more in the future about mycorrhizal fungus. This site is an ongoing story about lichen, and officially, mycorrhizal fungi are not really ‘cousins’ of lichens. But cousins are often the most numerous relatives we have, so I use that term to foster awareness that the fungus Kingdom is varied and vast. Sometimes getting to know one member of a family entails getting to know other members of the family one had not planned on meeting, or even knew existed. At the party called Daily Life on Earth, meeting all the relatives is part of the fun.
I met a mycorrhizal fungus last fall, on a dead tree trunk at the end of the Wintergreen Trail. I believe it is hyphae but do not know the fungus species. If anyone reading this knows, please post your ideas! Even deceased, it was an impressive presence. Long dark threads hung from the leaning tree trunk where the dry bark had separated from the inner wood. The threads formed a complex web several feet long, dangling in the air. The strands were so strong I could not break them by hand. There was yards and yards of this fibrous material. It seemed to have covered most of the surface of the tree trunk, under the bark.
Fiber strings from under tree bark
The picture is blurry, but the very dark strings and dark bark had no noticeable detail, so the picture is close to what I saw. The extent of the fiber mass was impressive.
Why am I talking about this mat of dark threads? Because I was exploring the NASA Global Climate Change site and found a story on mapping the mycorrhizae locations in forests, by mycorrhizae species. Read the story for why NASA is doing this; it’s interesting. There are two mycorrhizal species and trees use one or the other. The forests are regulated by the signals the mycorrhizae send through the trees. They work with other plants too. Scientists think this is important enough to make maps of where each species is in the forest, in relation to the tree species, and they are doing so by satellite images. So that old adage “you can’t see the forest for the trees” is true for us in a much deeper way than we ever understood before. The trees are one part of a vast and complex web of living beings, all talking to each other and cooperating to regulate themselves and their environment. Once we lift the curtain of our preconceptions, amazing things start to show up everywhere. If we only see trees, birds and some flowers, we are missing the major part of the forest. There is far more diversity and number of living beings in and under the soil than above it, and as much metabolic function occurs on and in the ground as above. The Small Ones may be at least as interesting as the large plants and animals we easily recognize.
After reading the article and thinking again about the mycorrhizae, I wonder about the relationships between fungus that don’t make lichen and those that do; between the chemistry created by one group of trees and fungus, and the signals of moisture, temperature, nutrients and more that may be allowing or encouraging certain other living beings to take up residence nearby. We know so little about the extensive activity going on just underground. What similar actions may the lichen be doing? After bacteria, they are the original homesteaders, setting up the terrain to be hospitable to the first mosses and vascular plants. Lichen are very good at getting along with other life forms and have made a place for themselves everywhere on earth. Maybe they have something to tell us about their part in regulating the forest, beyond their original activity of creating soil and available nutrients from rock and wood and air.
So, no lichen pictures today, just questions about this green and shining world we share with unknown others.
Check this blog again soon, for information on our first KVR lichen survey route.
This gorgeous lichen was found by Julie Hoel in St. George Island State Park, off the panhandle of Florida, late this winter. It is growing in a slash pine forest, on sandy ground. Thanks Julie for sharing this.
We don’t see this lichen in the Kickapoo, but I remember similar lichen in the jack pine forests of the Wisconsin River valley when I was a child. The oak and jack pine forests from Mazomanie, Arena, Spring Green, and Lone Rock area were filled with mosses and lichens. The ground was covered and they hung on tree branches. It was a wonderland of shapes and colors. As a child I knew it was a magical place and I spent many hours there but had no way to know what I was seeing. Now those forests are mostly gone, covered with irrigated, industrial scale, sprayed crops. The lichen are in retreat and mostly absent. With them went the diversity of birds, amphibians and plants that made up that fragile and beautiful land. In those days only a child would recognize the beauty in that dry, unassuming landscape but now some of the goat prairies and grasslands are being restored, and there are remnants of sandy jack pine forests in the river valley.
Julie’s Florida lichen picture inspires me to explore some of the Wisconsin River valley forests that are left to search for my lichen and moss friends from years ago.
I’ll let you know what I find!
Cladonia evansii with its friends, the mosses
photo by Julie Hoel