Lichen Garden

2013 November 16

Today, we’ve got something a bit different. While I’ve posted things that weren’t arthropods before, at least they were all animals. But, while I was out in the woods looking for late-season bugs on November 22, 2012, I stumbled across this:

“This” being a garden of interesting-looking lichens growing on an old pine stump[1]. What had really caught my eye were the ones with the bright red fruiting bodies.

These red ones look like “British Soldiers” lichen, Cladonia cristatellata, so named because they are the color of British military uniforms back when the British were colonizing North America. Lichens like these reproduce by spores, which are generally thrown off of elevated fruiting bodies so that they will travel further. Most spores are just carried around by the wind, but these bright red fruiting bodies sure look like they were trying to attract attention. They may have been colored like that to draw insects, which would then carry the spores to other locations where they could start growing.

This next photo I left as big as I can upload, so if you’d like to see it bigger you can click on it to see the British Soldiers fruiting bodies in their full glory.

Lichens are an odd symbiosis of fungus and algae. The fungus provides the shape, extracts necessary minerals from the environment, and protects the algae from the elements. The algae are photosynthetic, and provide the necessary energy while fixing carbon from the atmosphere for growth. Between the two of them, the pair can live pretty much anywhere, particularly in cold, inhospitable environments like rocks and tree bark. They generally grow slowly compared to other plants, but they do grow, and can take quite a lot of punishment that will kill other plants.

There are a lot of lichen morphologies, and a lot of different kinds of lichen are shown here at the Lichens Home Page. There were other species of lichen growing on this same stump which, while not as colorful, were geometrically interesting. Like two different species with branching structures to disperse their spores. Here’s one that looks like a bush:

And here’s another that looks a bit more . . . well . . . I guess “tentacular”.

And then there were these, with the cup-shaped fruiting bodies, which look more like something from a 50s science fiction movie than anything else.

Here’s a closeup picture of the brown cups that was also uploaded large, click on it to see the full detail.

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[1] This was back in the woods, under the old high-tension power lines. A few years back, the power company went through and cut down all the trees that had sprouted up under the lines and threatened to eventually grow tall enough to short them out. Most of them were about 4 inches in diameter, like this one.

One Response leave one →
  1. Carole permalink
    November 16, 2013

    I’ve seen these, but never stopped to look so closely. Glad you did.

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