Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lichen

Wine goblets for the "Wee People"
Walking along our drive before the permanent snow hit recently Barb came across this lovely patch of green on the otherwise dull brown forest floor.  Like many things in nature, when viewed up close these lichen are quite lovely.  They are frequently confused with moss and some like "reindeer moss" even carry the name.  Indeed some lichen are found associated with moss.

I sent this to our Master Naturalist lichenologists for review.  Nancy Schanda responded below.
"These are Pixie Cup lichens, Cladonia sp, are found growing on soil and mosses and look very much like goblets for wee folk. These lichens display two of the main growth forms that are used to help identify lichens - squamulose and fruticose.
The tiny leaf-like structures, squamulose form, are found growing at the bottom on the substrate of soil or moss.  The cups, fruticose form, are the upright structures that give the lichens their common name. They are fungal reproductive structures. The stem, podetium, supports the cup, apothecial disk. 
The disk contains the ascospores that are released into the air. The spores must then come in contact with the proper algae or cyanobacteria to form a new lichen. The fungal reproductive structures of most lichens are very important in identification."
Fruticose form cups contain the ascospores
Pixies play on cow bones- Wikimedia
In the19th century depictions pixies typically had skimpy green outfits,  pointed ears and cute pointed hats.  It should come as no surprise that in modern illustrations, fairies and pixies are increasingly female and frequently voluptuous.  It may be that their playful nature comes from too many "Pixie Cups."
"In traditional regional lore, pixies are generally benign, mischievous, short of stature and attractively childlike; they are fond of dancing and gather outdoors in huge numbers to dance or sometimes wrestle, through the night."  Wikipedia
Pixie Cups with squamulose form at the base and unidentified moss to the left.
Lichen, like pixies, are strange and wonderful little growths, neither plant nor fungus alone.  They are a combination of algae or cyanobacteria living nestled in the filaments of a specific fungus.  They live symbiotically in a lifestyle unlike either component alone.  Also like pixies, they tend cling to rocks, branches or the forest floor.

Do you have trouble remembering the components of lichen when the subject comes up in casual conversation?  Never again will you have one of these embarrassing memory lapses.
"Alice Algae and Freddie Fungus took a lichen to each other.  They got married and ever since then their relationship has been on the rocks."
A digestible overview of lichens is at this Earthlife.net link.

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