Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Name that Lichen!



One of the joys of working with the Missouri Master Naturalists is sharing finds and identifying the discoveries of friends and neighbors in the community.  We do this both in meetings with "show and tell" specimens, field trips and discoveries shared via the web.

I found this beautiful little growth on a walnut tree I was pruning in a strip of riparian plantings we planted along Bull Creek 15 years ago.  The healthy tree had already produced a few walnuts last year but I had never expected it to "grow flowers".   I sent the picture with an inquiry to the Blechs and the Shandas, two couples in the Springfield Plateau Master Naturalists that specialize in lichens and had a response from each within an hour.  The summary:
Golden-eye lichen- Wikimedia
"It is a fruticose lichen, Teloschistes chrysophthalmus, common name gold-eye lichen. Outstanding, aren't they?"- Schandas

"Thallus pale to deep orange, 3-7 cm broad, loosely attached; branches flattened to round, becoming finely spinulate at the tips; apothecia common.  Common on exposed trees in prairie regions or open dry uplands".  How to Know the Lichens, Second Edition, Mason E. Hale. One of our very favorite lichens!- Blechs
Golden-eye Lichen  -Wikimedia
T. Chrysophthalmus is wide spread in warm climates on both hemispheres.  It tends to grow in well lit areas on twigs, shrubs and small trees.  It is threatened in the UK and Northern Ireland, and its range is probably affected by changes in climate.  It is interesting that many of the websites in a search come from the UK and Ireland, suggesting once again that we learn to appreciate the common most when it becomes threatened.
Telochistes range- .discoverlife.org

A description quoted from Arkive.org describes its biology more fully.
 "Lichens are remarkable organisms; they consist of an alga and/ or a cyanobacteria and a fungus living together in a symbiotic association (5). A general rule is that the fungal component of a lichen is unable to live independently, but the alga may live without the fungal partner as a distinct species (5). Many lichens are known to be very sensitive to environmental pollution, and they have been used as 'indicators' of pollution (4)."
This species produces fruiting bodies called 'apothecia' which occur on short stalks. These contain a bag-like structure called an 'ascus', which contains spores. Because the fruiting bodies are produced only by the fungal partner of the lichen, after the spore has dispersed it must acquire cells of the correct alga or it will be unable to survive (2)."
The last sentence is important.  Many lichen are dependent on good air quality.  When you see a lichen growing exuberantly on a dead cedar branch, it isn't a bad sign.  It may just be telling you to "take a deep breath and enjoy the good clean air available here."

Pictures of other Telochistes species can be seen at .digitalmycology.com and stridvall.se/lichens/gallery/ .

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