Posts Tagged 'lichens'


Always take a look at the sticks and limbs that come down from old trees. There’s a lot of stuff going on up there, out of sight, and breakages provide a great opportunity to see what. This piece of an oak has at least two nice lichens on it.
Star Rosette Lichen (Physcia stellaris).
Rosette Lichen (Physcia millegrana).

Both IDs tentative. The chocolate-like disks are apothecia, where the spores are made.

From Sheldrake’s Entangled Life: “In joining forces, the fungal partners are part photobiont and the photobionts part fungus. Yet lichens resemble neither. Just as the chemical elements of hydrogen and oxygen combine to make water, a compound entirely unlike either of its constituent elements, so lichens are emergent phenomena, entirely more than the sum of their parts.”

Sheldrake continues: “The word individual comes from the Latin meaning ‘undividable.’ Is the whole lichen the individual? Or are its constituent members, the parts, the individuals? Is this even the right question to ask? Lichens are a product less of their parts than of the exchanges between those parts. Lichens are stabilized networks of relationships; they never stop lichenizing; they are verbs as well as nouns.”

Sheldrake asks the same questions about animals, since we are also networks combining microbiomes and viral and bacterial parts that originally came from elsewhere. More anon, as the mushrooms expand my mind.

I’m Easy Lichen Sunday Morning…

When hunting lichens, it’s important to blend in. Stalking wild Lecanoromycetes is made all the easier by wearing appropriate camouflage. Lichens are slow, but they can see you coming.
Glad to see the professionals agree!

Back in December, my partner Molly and I discovered a very rare-for-the-city Usnea lichen. When another Usnea genus lichen was found in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx not so long ago, it was worthy of being written up in the Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society. This was because it was the first record of the species here in NYC in almost two centuries.

So we contacted the proper authorities, in this case Dr. James Lendemer at NYBG. This week James and one of his PhD students, Carly R. Anderson, came to collect a sample of this tiny beard lichen.
(Like the famous flag-raising at Iwo Jima, this is actually a re-posed picture because snipping a bit of lichen is a pretty quick operation…).

The reason for the sampling: there are two possible species this could be, and you can only really tell via DNA analysis. At least for specimens in the city, which don’t seem to get larger and more characteristic as they might elsewhere. (I wrote about lichens and their nemesis, air pollution, here.)

Since the specimen is located on private property, we contacted more proper authorities. Always get permission for taking samples, kids. In this case, Sara Evans, Green-Wood’s Manager of Horticulture Operations and Projects, gave James the OK and joined our expedition.
Also along for the ride were some of my hazelnut flour brownies (this recipe, but with a touch of salt) for snacks. Excellent moral support for a rainy day expedition by the BEF, or Brownie Expeditionary Force. This trio of rich Nutella-y squares didn’t make it back…

Stay tuned for the Species Reveal Party!


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.)

The Faces of Lichen

It wasn’t so long ago that I thought these memorials were just dirty, worn away with time and the elements, including acid rain.
But I’ve been looking closer. At the lichens.
Tireless, long- and slow-growing lichens, lovers of stone. Well, at least these species. Others favor wood. Some grow on both wood and stone. Some favor other kinds of stone (these are limestones and marbles, I think). There are specialists and generalists among the lichens.
Lichens can corrode stone. They do this physically, by expanding into the rock, as well as chemically, by excreting acids.
(Berry or seed courtesy of a bird.)
(This one is two-faced.)
Up on their plinths, they’re too high to get that close to.


Lichens, like other lifeforms, are sensitive to air pollution. So the relative scrubbing of the air in the last few generations — before the Republican counter-revolution — has brought back lichen communities to NYC. Cemeteries are the one of best places to see lichens because they don’t have the road traffic of the streets and have both trees and stones, the substrates lichens thrive on.These pictures were taken last month at a Torrey Botanical Society walk in Woodlawn Cemetery. The tour leader was one of the authors of a paper in the Society’s Journal about the discovery of a Usnea lichen species that hadn’t been seen here in two centuries.

Liking Lichen


Tiny Worlds

Look closer!shrroooomUnion Street.

Lichenworld II

lichen9lichen8lichen6lichen7More marvelous lichens from Nantucket.lichen5And amidst them, a tiny mushroom.

Lichenworld I

lichen4Lichens are extremely sensitive to air pollution, so we don’t have all that many here in the city. We’re missing out on an amazing little universe as a result, one we’ve gotten used to not seeing. This is a perfect example of the way environmental destruction isn’t noticed: as species decline and disappear, we become used to what we see now in the present, forgetting what once was. Everything seems normal now, but isn’t, not by a log shot. lichen3Last week, however, I was thirty miles off the coast of Cape Cod, on Nantucket, where the frisky air is some of the cleanest on the East Coast. As a consequence, the place is a lichen wonderland. A similar habitat to Long Island, Nantucket thus serves as a window into our own past here. 89 species in 37 genera were noted in this quick survey in 2004. My examples here all come from the town, after two days of rain, a spot not surveyed then.lichen2Lichens are composite, symbiotic organisms, made up of fungus and algae and/or cyanobacteria. They come in some very interesting forms. lichen1
UlmusLichens can grow on almost any surface. An ocean-nestled place like Nantucket means they’re thick on wood, both alive and dead (fences, houses), but higher elevations and drier places will see them on rock. The base of this hoary elm has a particular rich landscape of lichen.


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