lichen

Lichens and CWD

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I have good friends in Canada who are film makers, and currently they are making a documentary on Chronic Wasting Disease. Of course, Wisconsin was one of their destinations for filming, as well as western states, England and Norway. If you eat meat, or simply care about the health of wildlife, it is probably a good idea to pay attention to new information on this and similar diseases, as information is updated. One of the team members who has been working on CWD in Canada for many years told me about some research on lichens and prion disease .  The Tiny Ones continue to amaze with yet another complex and very particular activity they perform, unknown to us. It may be very useful to us to learn how they deal with prions. This research is a start.

Parmelia sulcata + Flavopunctilia soredica wet 4.17 copy
Parmelia sulcata is the blue-green lichen with white edges

The researchers found three lichens that affected prions. One of them was Parmelia sulcata, pictured above with friends Moss and Flavopunctilia sp.  The other two lichens were Lobaria pulmonaria and Cladonia rangiferina. I don’t think that Cladonia grows in this part of Wisconsin, but Lobaria pulmonaria does; sorry I don’t have an image for this post.  Check Sharnoff’s lichen pages for images. These three lichens have a serine protease activity that breaks down the prion. The only way humans know how to break down a prion is with the use of extreme heat, high Ph levels and the use of detergents.  There may be many ways that lichens can affect prions; the scientists are just getting started looking at how lichens do what they do. It probably is the fungal, mycobiont that is affecting the prion changes, but the researchers have many questions yet about how the lichens do what they do. We have talked about the many complexities of the lichens’ interactions with the environment, and unanswered questions we have, in other posts, so this isn’t new to Kickapoo Lichen Lovers!

Humans have just started looking at what the lichens are doing, and there are thousands of lichens, so it would be reasonable to suspect other species may have similar abilities.

I love to think about why certain lichens would find it useful to de-activate prions. What interactions might occur in their part of the world, that causes a lichen to even notice a prion? Could a prion harm lichens? Does a prion interfere with photosynthesis, or other functions of the photobiont or mycobiont partners? Maybe the mycobiont is simply ‘hunting’….just to bag that rare prion. (It’s ok to laugh….)

Usnea sp.-Canopy BV 3-17 Celestron
Usnea sp from canopy- microscope image

We have known for a long time that lichens have many antibiotic properties; maybe half the lichen species humans have checked have some antibiotic function. Birds line nests with known antibiotic-making lichens, which may keep nestlings safer from disease. We know lichens can detoxify pollutants they extract from the air. Maybe one of their functions in the world is to clean things up.

We will never know all the reasons, or all that any plant or animal does with its life that is useful and necessary for the other plants, animals, microbes, insects, and everyone else in the Web of Life. Learning even a small part of what’s going on around us opens us up to wonder, and sparks interest and then, with any luck for all the other life on earth, we are motivated to take care, and do less harm. The news that my special friends the Lichens are already dealing with prions made me laugh. Of course! They have been here millions of years longer than us, and have had a long time to develop elegant responses to the world around them. May we be able to follow their example.

Kickapoo Cathedrals 1
Lichen on river cliff

Spring Lichen Sightings

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Black Hawk Rock view to the south April 2019
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Black Hawk Rock-Umbilicaria americana, Xanthoria, various crustose lichens

It’s been an icy and variable winter, making for hard to travel trails much of the time. After a warm spell I hiked with two friends to Black Hawk Rock in mid April on dry trails the whole way. This year in April, the lichens are still mostly dormant and their colors are muted. They very much want to cover the whole surface of the rocky ledge, but humans also very much want to perch on these rocks, and their heavy steps damage the lichens so there are numerous bare areas too. There’s room for all here, so please watch your step and avoid the areas where lichens are living.

The most obvious lichens are on the rocks, but take time to look at the cedar and oak trees. They support many lichens.

BHR-76 LT cedar Punctilia rudecta_ 11.17
Punctilia rudecta on cedar tree
BHR-74 LT cedar summit 4.17 Physcia and Xanthoria
Physcia sp. and Xanthoria sp. sharing a cedar branch

These are a few of the beautiful lichens living on the cedar trees at the summit. Lichens on the soil, rocks on the ground and at the base of the cliffs were all quite subdued compared to the last time I visited. Photographing the lichens on the rock summit and certain trees along the trail and comparing the images over time will allow us to learn about how lichens are changing in growth, species changes and generally how healthy they are. This is not a controlled experiment! I am casually observing on an irregular basis. Anyone who has observations to share about lichens please send your information to me, to add to the KVR information on our ecosystem.

A few days after visiting Black Hawk Rock, I walked part way up Little Canada trail, stepping around the muddy spots. There were many small branches on the ground from the recent stormy weather. Some had been on the ground for a while, so the lichens were beginning to die and the fungi, such as Turkey Tail, and also mosses were well established on the branches. After windy weather is an excellent time to search for evidence of lichens living in the canopy of the forest. It is almost impossible to see them unless they have the misfortune of falling to the ground. There may be lichens in the canopy that are not growing near the ground so it is valuable to check those fresh twigs we usually walk by without noticing.

DDT canopy Little Can Tr 4.14.19 moss fungi parmelia, ramelina, physcia
Old branch from the canopy on Little Canada trail

The above photo shows an old branch from the canopy on Little Canada trail. It is a good example of the transition between a living tree and lichens and the fungi and moss that begin to grow as the tree dies. Gradually the tree becomes moss, fungi and then eventually forest soil that other trees will grow from, and the lichen will again appear on the new tree.

LT canopy Little Canada Trail 4.14.19
Parmotrema sp. maybe! and Physcia sp.

This is an branch of lichen in the canopy of the forest on Little Canada trail. The Parmotrema and Physcia lichen will live in lower areas of hardwood trees too. This branch has been on the ground for at least part of a year. The bark as well as the lichens are deteriorating but it is still possible to see the large size and complex structure covering the branch. The numerous small brown cups with blue gray foliose areas is the Physcia, the large, convoluted, leafy- looking greenish lichen is the Parmotrema.

Finding lichens from the canopy of the forest is an important part of learning about how healthy the forest is, and understanding the whole of the dynamic processes that are essential for sustainability. Considering only the species we are interested in for our own use, or because we think they are beautiful has led to many complicated problems in the Web of Life. The Tiny Ones, of all varieties (anyone small enough we have to slow down, look closely to see, or can’t see at all) are an essential part of sustainable life on Earth. As we learn to recognize them, and understand what they do, we will be able to make better decisions about how to interact with the rest of the world, and not least, will have endless new questions to ask and wonders to explore.

If you’d like to share a Liken’ Lichen Hike this spring or summer, contact me anytime. And please share this blog to help the KVR share our love of Lichens!

Susan

 

Foreign Lichens

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My friend Peter Schmidt was visiting Germany recently and found this tree branch in a woodland area. He thoughtfully shared it with your local Lichen Hunter. I have no idea what it is, but am going to spend some time with my lichen resources to challenge myself.

German Lichen-Peter Schmidt 3.19
Yellow lichen near Zulpich, Germany -Peter Schmidt photo

On the left there are some distant branches with yellow lichen; a careful look around this woodland might find more interesting species in addition to these bright yellow ones.

Here’s a closer view. Although the resolution is not good enlarged, we can see it is a foliose type of lichen; it has some leafy growth in areas and looks wrinkled, as if it is not tightly attached to the branch, as a crustose lichen would be.

German Lichen-close up
German lichen closeup view-from Peter Schmidt photo

Last summer I posted images from British Columbia, Canada, of the yellow lichens that are very common there in the fir and spruce forests.

BC 5A-DTtrunk Letharia vulpina 5.18b
Letharia vulpina -British Columbia -Susan Cushing photo

The Letharia is a fruticose type lichen; it has branches, grows upright or trailing and is attached to the tree at small, discrete spots, just like a shrub growing in the ground.

Letharia vulpina uses vulpinic acid to make the yellow color, which is poisonous. In some parts of the north it has been used as a poison to kill wolves and other animals.  It is toxic to any meat-eating mammal, as well as to molluscs and insects. But it does not affect mice and rabbits! The lichens use vulpinic acid to control the amount of light absorbed. (Lichen Biology, Thomas H. Nash III). The German lichen may use a different chemical to make its yellow color; a mystery I won’t solve today.

This spring I’ll go out looking for yellow colored lichens in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve  and Wildcat Mountain State Park. Join me! No matter what we find, we’ll have a good walk in the woods.

Remember, look for the Tiny Ones when you are out walking.

Susan

 

Winter Lichen Hunting Memories

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It’s raining tonight (February 23rd) and quite unpleasant outside. Today I retrieved from a drawer the lichen samples I collected last summer in Canada, with the intention of finally identifying the species. While traveling I discovered that the plastic clam boxes that fruit is sold in make great traveling sample containers for all sorts of delicate pieces of lichen as well as shells, bark, fallen birds’ eggs and dead bugs. I like to bring home all those things, look at them for a while then return them to the woods and fields to keep their place in the cycle of life.

Often, in many places, the only way berries and other small produce is sold is in plastic clamshell boxes, so I ended up with a few of them during our travels. I don’t buy food in plastic containers, but made a temporary exception during a few days of the trip. The paper envelopes usually used to hold lichen samples work the best, and they too can rejoin the circle of life when we are done using them. So now I’m sorting out the lichens from their plastic cages, and enjoying the memories of finding them during the summer’s travels.

Toby Cr trail S-Peltigera sp 6.18a
Peltigera sp. on soil, Toby Canyon Trail near Invermere, British Columbia

 

The Peltigera in British Columbia can also be found here in Wisconsin. When walking the KVR Wintergreen Bluff Trail stop at Lichen Site 4 (the rocky flat area) and look carefully for this species. There is quite a large area of them. Please stay on the trail while looking, so you don’t crush the Tiny Ones! At different times and weathers, these lichens will change dramatically, from being almost invisible to looking like they do in this picture.

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Peltigera at Lichen Site 4, Kickapoo Valley Reserve

Here’s what the bench land looks like above the Columbia River in southeast British Columbia. This is a Nature Conservancy area so has been protected from excessive damage. Much of the bench lands are built on, and the lichens are few in those places.

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Nature Conservancy bench land above the Columbia River, British Columbia

Walking the trails here, this is what the ground looks like:

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Soil surface-Nature Conservancy bench land reserve above the Columbia River, British Columbia

While walking, and especially biking through here, looking out at the scenery or the next obstacle to maneuver around, the life on the ground is something no one notices. Yet this microbiome is holding all the larger life in place, creating and protecting an environment, shelter, food supply system, promoting health, preventing erosion and more. As it disappears when we travel over it or dig it up, the diversity and therefore the sustainability of the whole area fails.

detail BC Hoodoo trail S-crustose 6.18 (1)
The soil surface up close, full of lichens and their buddies-fungi, bacteria, protists and more.

When we step on the ground here, it sounds a bit crunchy, and it is; the dry lichens break off and the delicate crust on the surface of the ground is broken open. All dry, open soils naturally have some microbiome crust, unless disturbed. This allows dry grasslands and even deserts to support a tremendous variety and number of living beings, from plants to insects, birds, mammals, reptiles and even humans.

These dry grassy areas in the western areas of our continent should be covered in some form of this microbiome. When visiting these areas, go slowly and look at what is on the soil and rocks, then step carefully. There is a miniature world at your feet as complex as the world of trees, grass and animals we are familiar with.

Leaving the dry grasslands and moving into the more tree covered slopes of the lower mountain elevations, there continues to be much life on the soil and rocks, but the trees also support a vast community of lichens. From deep rainforest communities to dry open pine forest, lichens love it here.

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Lichens on aspen trunk near Bragg Creek, Alberta 

 

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Lichen on rock south of Calgary, Alberta; I have no idea of the species names!

The colors and shapes rival any garden. Each time a new rock is found, the lichen shapes and colors are different. Trees are festooned with bright yellow, pale yellow and greens of Usnea and Vulpicida as well as the grays and greens and blacks of Letharia, Hypogemnias and more.

BC 5A-DTtrunk Letharia vulpina 5.18b
Vulpicida canadensis on conifer, British Columbia
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Conifer branch filled with healthy lichens-Hypogemnia austerodes

Yes, I do get those seed catalogs, and can get lost dreaming in them on winter days, but an excellent variation of that pastime is looking at lichen pictures. If there are not enough pictures here for you, try the best lichen picture site ever -Stephen Sharnoff’s amazing website. Add some color and amazement to your gray winter days by sharing this lichen blog and Sharnoff’s site too, with others, especially kids!

Contact us at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve if you want help learning about lichens. Come out and walk the Lichen Trail. Even in winter you’ll find some color and intrigue in Lichen Land. Thanks for reading this blog. Please share with others, to spread the news about our friends in Lichen Land.

More lichen poetry and a bit of science

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It’s hard to stop at just one poem. Now I’m looking for quotes about lichens, and more poetry too.  So here is another lichen poem, by a trained biologist. This one goes deep into Lichen’s personal life. You might enjoy having a glossary of lichen terms nearby to get the most out of her verse, but even without that, I hope you are amused. She gives a fairly good synopsis of lichen life. Memorize the poem (why not?) and amaze your friends.

Lichen Poem  by Caryl Sue  (National Geographic/BioBlitz)

Their love can be a bit crustose

with areoles in bloom;

Their love can produce thread-like string,

called hyphae, when they plume.

Their love has colonized the Earth

from deserts to the ice;

These extremophiles exist

on sand, on trees, on gneiss.

Who could these star-crossed lovers be?

Why are they symbiotes?

They reproduce asexually

unlike us mammal folk.

A fungus, a mycobiont,

is one part of the pair-

It often lives all on its own:

itself, dead things, and air.

The other love, photobiont

can turn light into food;

The trick is photosynthesis

a skill that’s pretty shrewd.

Photobionts can be algae,

sometimes cyanobac;

Some lucky fungi can have both

at once, and that’s a fact.

A pair now caught between two worlds

not fungi, not algae

A composite organism

of one, or two, or three.

United now, this smart couple

sets out to reproduce;

Small spores or fragments of themselves

are set on winds, diffuse.

Some reproduce by using spores,

sped off to parts unknown.

These fungi that do not find mates

are doomed to die alone.

Soredia, isidia

are reproductive packs

In orange, or green, or yellow hues,

or purple, white, or black.

O foliose! O fruticose!

O squamulose, and more!

The fungi and the algae have

so many types in store.

Animals use them for their nests—

hummingbirds and turkey;

They’re almost all that reindeer eat

in the winter, murky.

People eat them as “famine food”,

They’re not a tasty treat.

They’re used in herbal remedies-

in dyes, and perfumes sweet.

So, once upon a time ago,

fungi, algae convince—

They fell in love, and they have been

lichen it ever since.

CO R 12-18
Lichens and ice on Cutoff Trail rocks Dec 2018

 

 

Lichen Poetry

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Poetry and lichens are two inspirations for me. I wrote a little lichen poem:

I’m liken’ lichens

they’re lookin’ lovely,

Like little lilies

all lined up on a log.

Of course it’s not very ‘good’! But it is fun. Lichens often seem very cheerful and playful. Any time there are so many shapes and colors, there has to be a party going on. I think it is the party of Life happening!

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Xanthoria sp. celebrating with bright colors

Greater poets than I have also noticed lichens, and each poet has a unique perspective. Pablo Neruda is one of my favorite poets. Here is his poem about lichens.

Lichen on Stone by Pablo Neruda

Lichen on stone: the web

of green rubber

weaves an old hieroglyphic,

unfolding the script

of the sea

on the curve of a boulder.

The sun reads it. The mollusk devours it.

Fish slither on stone,

with a bristling of hackles.

An alphabet moves in the silence,

printing its drowned incunabula

on the naked flank of the beaches.

The lichens

climb, higher, plaiting and braiding,

piling their nap in the caverns of

the ocean and air, coming and going,

until nothing may dance but the wave

and nothing persist but the wind.

If you are not familiar with Neruda’s work, read his Ode to Socks, and you will have a new love for a good pair of socks. Speaking of socks, I would love to have a nice warm pair of winter socks, with lichens crocheted or knitted around the top. It would go splendidly with my Lichen Hat. But my knitting skills are a long way from accomplishing those socks. Speaking of warm socks, now that it’s colder, and here in the Kickapoo, mostly damp and wet, it’s a good time to check your favorite rock or tree trunk for lichen activity. Of course, you won’t actually see any movement, but this is where memory is an important part of learning. Remember the last time you looked at that tree or rock?

CO R south facing- 10-17a
Lichen covered rock
CO R north facing 10-17g
Lichen covered rock

 

 

These two images of lichen covered rock are not exactly the same place, but illustrate the differences that can occur between wet and dry conditions. What is inconspicuous one day will be illuminated with color another day. Winter is a great time to see lichens, as the leaves that often cover them are gone. If there is not much snow the lichens are very visible, and of course on trees they are always visible.

If you see a beautiful lichen (use your hand lens!) and are inspired to write a poem, or just want to describe and complement the lichen, send your comment to this blog. If you give your name, I’ll send you a hand lens! Anonymous is ok too. Poems can be any length, any style, any degree of expertise; new poets are especially encouraged (I am one too). There will be a visit to the lichens, to read the poems to them, and anyone can come along for Lichen Hiking. Thanks for sharing this blog, and spreading Lichen Love!

BC 5A-DTtrunk Letharia vulpina 5.18b
Letharia vulpina on spruce tree in British Columbia

 

 

Learning About Mosses

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Moss on Kickapoo River cliff – summer 2017

There are numerous people who have been writing about the world we live in, in a way different than the explorers and scientists of years ago. Of these newer voices (there are some are of an earlier time)  Robin Kimmerer is one writer I feel a particular kinship with, as she writes of mosses. To me, lichen and moss share a similar place in the world even though they have unique qualities and functions. They are of the ‘Tiny Ones’ as I call them; the ones we do not notice while we are watching out for the large, moving, and to us thrilling big animals, or giant trees or rare birds.

Ms. Kimmerer speaks of relationships; she orients us to life from the ground up, from the small lives that weave all the Web of Life together, and then make most of the adjustments to keep the whole Dance alive. If you are interested in the lichens’ intricate world that is almost hidden in the forests you enjoy on hikes and rides and paddling the river, take some time with the mosses too. They might be easier to identify! But don’t think that they are simple or boring because they are small. Gathering Moss  opens another way into the vast and complex world of, truly,  most of the life around us. Check it out from the library this winter. As with finding lichens, winter can be a good time to find beautiful mosses, especially when we have some milder days. The cool temperatures and moisture from melting snow make conditions that lichen and moss love. They are hydrated and show off form and colors very dramatically.

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Moss garden at the Wintergreen Trail Lichen Site 6

When out walking, observe the base of trees, rocky areas and sometimes soil also. The Kickapoo Valley Reserve and nearby forests have many moss species. As with observing lichens, a small hand lens is invaluable for seeing the tiny features that are hard to notice otherwise.

Below is a painting I just finished, of lichen and moss on a river cliff near Bridge 8. The lichen really are that turquoise color, under certain conditions.

Kickapoo Cathedrals 1
Kickapoo Cathedral I – acrylic on panel

Let’s go out in the woods, and make friends with the mosses as well as the lichens. See you out there!

Susan