Did you know there’s lichen that grows in the air? And it can grow inside rocks. And it could grow on Mars (it doen’t actually grow there, but it has been grown in a scientific Mars simulated environment). From rainforest to tundra, lichens are everywhere and cover some 6% of earth’s land surface. Impressive stuff, lichen, not to mention being quite stunning in colour and form; the vibrant green of the wolf lichen stood out on a snowy walk in Vallorcine.
Lichens are also a pioneer species, being amoung the first thing to grow when all else has been wiped out by some natural disaster. However most grow very slowly indeed, less than 1mm a year. They don’t consume any part of the plant or tree they’re sitting on.
It’s made up of algae, growing between strands of fungus and, unlike plants, it has no root system to get it’s food. Lichen does use photosynthesis, gaining most of their nutrients from the atmosphere. The three main types of lichen are fruticose, foliose and crustose.
Uses, well, many lichens can be eaten, but rather as an emergency food I think – yellow lichens tend to be the poisonous ones. Lichens are used as dyes: it’s a lichen that’s the dye in the litmus test. Harris tweed traditionally used lichen based dyes.
Just one more snowy lichen picture, this was really ‘in your face’ lichen on a branch across my path.