This is the first printed image of a lichen. 1542: Leonhart Fuchs’s De historia stirpium commentarii insignes… (and the title keeps going, as they were wont to). This copy is from the special collections department at the LuEster T. Mertz Library at the NYBG. This book and several others were on display during a recent lecture.

Here’s the thing: today, the pictured lifeform would be called a liverwort. Liverworts are pretty cool, too, being nonvascular plants, but they aren’t lichens. Lichens are symbiotic composites of fungi and algae (or cyanobacteria).

And lichens are everywhere. There may be some on the nearest concrete: a particularly calcium-loving (from the limestone component of concrete) one is called Sidewalk Firedot. Gotta be on your hands and knees to see it, though.
You’re probably more used to these splotchy lichens on rocks and bark.

Your intrepid blogger’s partner Molly is really getting into lichens lately. I’m a little taller than she is, so I spotted this tiny Usnea beard lichen in Green-Wood before she did.

But she’s the one who suspected what it was. It’s small but significant. The first recorded Usnea in New York City in nearly two hundred years was spotted in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx and written up this year. Urban pollution has reduced lichen diversity. Clearer air since the 1970s means some species have made a come-back.

We’ve contacted the proper authorities at Lichen Central at the NYBG and they will be figuring out what Usnea species this Green-Wood specimen is. Evidently they will require a sample for DNA testing. Stay tuned.

Recently also I spotted some tiny black filament-like structures coming off some mushrooms from a fallen branch. I only noticed these when looking at the photos I’d taken of the mushrooms; these pin lichens are too small for the naked eye.

Spotting them, I handed the pictures over to Molly. Once again, she came to the rescue: these seem to be specimens of Phaeocalicium polyporaeum. The tiny tinies grow on a couple kinds of shelf fungi.

Pin lichens are supposed to be indicative of healthy habitat. Which, two blocks from the Jackie Gleason Bus Depot, is pretty good, right? (No, I’m not sure why an actor who merely played a bus driver on TV got the recognition here; the vast majority of our bus depots are named for their location.)

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