Lichen: Exploring Microecosystems in Your Backyard
Light: The algal cells that the fungi farm need light to photosynthesize. Lichen species have different light requirements. Some prefer full sun on rocks while others like shady, cooler subclimates. Brightness and coloring are also affected by light. Species adapted to hotter and brighter conditions are generally more colorful.
Nutrients: Lichen nutrients include; oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen. Lichens use cyanobacteria to “fix” nitrogen from the air which is then used to organic acids and proteins.
Substrate: Any non-moving object the lichen can hold onto – rocks, trees, soil, tombstones, houses, farm equipment, etc.
Types of Lichen
Foliose: Leafy lichens that use tiny rhizines to attach to substrate.
Folios lichen – Plitt’s Xanthoparmelia plitti, Lettuce lichen/Lobaria oregana & Rhizine Photo by Ed Uebel – NOTE: Lichens are not parasitic. They do not hurt trees.
Forage: Hair-like and hanging species that are eaten by animals and humans
Forage lichen – Willa/Bryoria fremontii – eaten by squirrels, western voles, wild turkey, slugs, snails, mites, springtails, certain caterpillars and Mule deer. Photo by Jason Hollinger
Crustose: Lichens grow flat on their substrate surface
Crustose lichens – gold cobblestone/Pleopsidium flavum and Firedot/Caloplaca trachyphylla – Photos by Jason Hollinger
Fruticose: looks like a shrub, bush, or coral
Fruticose lichen – Old Man’s Beard/Usnea Photo by Rhododendrites & Wolf lichen/Letharia vulpina Photo by Jason Hollinger
Lichens have multiple reproduction methods. If they reproduce sexually (by way of fruiting bodies) they create spores. If they reproduce asexually, a powdery substance – soredia – is released. Both methods use, wind, water, and animals to transport the newbies.
The fruiting body of the Pixie Cup lichen
MYTH: Lichen do not harm trees.
Other Lichen Uses & Users
Clothing, wound absorbent, diapers, model train shrubbery, and an ingredient in concrete, perfume, and deodorant. Some lichens are being studied as new sources of antibiotics and medicines.
Camouflage for; lizards, moths, tree frogs and other insects.
Insect larva camouflage
At least 50 bird species use lichens as nesting material.