lichen

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.

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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?

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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!

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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

Lichens and Fires

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Hypogymnia sp. on conifer branch in British Columbia

Wildfire effects on lichens have recently been coming to the attention of biologists and foresters who are studying the long term effects of the very hot fires that have become more common in the North American west. The forests developed over thousands of years to withstand and benefit from low intensity, frequent fires. We humans suppressed the fires for over 100 years, and now the increasing but historically normal dry conditions and build up of unburned woody material in the forests, as well as the vast number of beetle-killed trees create conditions that encourage fires to start and burn hotter than normal.

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Usnea sp, on aspen tree near Bragg Creek, Alberta

These super hot fires burn the forest more completely, killing all the lichens. Many years later there are no signs of lichens in the burned areas. Scientists suspect the lichens will not return until the forests grow large, older trees that provide habitat for lichens. The lack of lichens in a new forest will affect the health of the trees, and the ability of many animals and insects and birds to live in a burned over area. Many species depend on lichens for some aspect of their lives; without lichens, these residents disappear.

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Aspen tree lichen community- Xanthoria, Usnea, Hypogmnia sp. (unsure of ID)

When we see the diversity and quantity of lichens in an established forest, it becomes clear they are an important part of the community. After a fire, and also after human logging activity forests do regrow, but we are only starting to understand some of the ways each member of the forest plays an essential role in making a resilient, vibrant, and sustainable environment that all life can depend on. We are starting to realize that some trees and other plants growing after a fire are only a small part of the life that needs to become established and begin cooperating to make a real forest. Maybe in the future we will change our management habits to not suppress natural processes, and when we do interfere, we will use more comprehensive methods to renew the forest, such as inoculate with lichen spores as we plant trees, consider helping other plants grow, and diversify the species we plant. We’ll also need to choose trees, forbes, lichens and maybe even soil microbes that fit the environment being addressed.

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Hypogmnia sp. and Usnea sp. on conifer branch in SE British Columbia

We’ll need to think about the combinations and timing of introducing species. Just sticking some pine trees into the ground is not in any sense ‘reforestation’. (I planted trees for paper companies for years and was rudely awakened by what passed for ‘reforestation’.)

While we contemplate these ideas, we also have to learn at what stage of a forest’s growth each member of the community enters and establishes itself. We know in general, but I am sure we have a lot to learn. We know lichens are one of the first to colonize new earth, then moss, liverworts, ferns and on to larger plants. Each species, each facet of rock, wood or soil has special properties; they combine and change in minute but critical ways, in an elaborate dance with each other.

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British Columbia – lichen on rock

Maybe one of the good things to come out of the tragic fires in the western forests will be a desire to regrow forests that are resilient and adaptable as well as useful for our timber needs.

NOTE: Identification of lichens in these photos is tentative. If anyone reading this site has a suggestion for a more accurate identification, please contact me. Thanks!

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!

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

Winter at the Lichen Sites

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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.

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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