Liking Lichen


Master Po: [after easily defeating the boy in combat] Ha, ha, never assume because a man has no eyes he cannot see. Close your eyes. What do you hear? Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds. Master Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat? Young Caine: No. Master Po: Do you hear the grasshopper that is at your feet? Young Caine: [looking down and seeing the insect] Old man, how is it that you hear these things? Master Po: Young man, how is it that you do not? (from the 1972 TV Movie Kung Fu)

I often times feel like Young Caine in the previous dialog. I realize that I do not see or hear much of the life that is around me. I realize that my senses are dull and that I need to learn how to really see and learn how to really hear.

Today as I walked in a park, I snapped photos of flowering trees, buzzing insects, and brilliantly colored birds. After awhile, I decided to sit for a moment of rest. I found a warm, dry spot and sat down. As I sat still for a moment, I began to notice previously unnoticed insects busily working. I saw an ant carrying a seed and another ant carrying a fly that was at least four times larger than it was. I saw decaying Sweet Gum seed pods, acorns, and other remnants of winter. And I saw a small branch that had fallen off of an oak. I then noticed the lichen on the branch- so I began to look even closer at it.

Lichen are beautiful organisms that have a very important place in our eco-system; perhaps even more than we will ever know. For example: many lichens cannot tolerate air pollution. They can tolerate drought, cold, and heat- but not bad air. For this reason, scientists have used lichens in their studies of the atmosphere. The BBC recently reported that a lichen that had been absent from a certain area of England had suddenly reappeared. Evidently the air quality in this section of England had improved enough that the lichen was again able to begin growing in the area.

According to a National Park Service article, lichen also have chemicals and toxins that it can excrete for defensive purposes. These purposes include: protection from direct sunlight, prevent other organisms from living within the lichen, inhibit the growth of moss, and most interestingly, stop grazing by large animals. As recently as March 18, 2008, 48 elk died in Montana as a result of eating lichen. Scientists found a small amount of lichen in the elks' stomuchs- indicating that the elk had probably inadvertently eaten the lichen with the grass as they grazed. The elk that had eaten the lichen became paralyzed- becoming unable to move and falling to the ground. When found, the elk were alert but unable to move. The game keepers had to euthanize them. Scientists believe an acid in the lichen was to blame. Interestingly, the consumption of the lichen seemed to only effect Elk, sheep or antelope could eat the same lichen with no problems. (article)
Lichens can be useful for us in direct ways as well. It is believed that up to 50% of all lichen species have antibiotic properties. Research continues in the study of lichens by the pharmaceutical companies. (source)

I could write more and more about the wonderful life of lichen. However, some dedicated researchers have compiled a list of the uses and the wonders of lichens already. Their site is http://www.lichens.com/.






15 comments:

Ted C. MacRae said...

Nice closeup pics of lichens. I've recently become enamored with this group - I took quite a few pictures of different kinds over this past winter.

John Theberge said...

Thanks for visiting my blog, glad you enjoyed it. I found yours very interesting also. Winter is taking its time loosening its grip around here but I'm looking forward to getting the kayak out again. Normally we're out by April but I don't know if that will be the case this year, it's been a long winter.

Stacey Huston said...

I love Lichen, they really are an inportant organism(?) We have lichen here in Wyoming. growing on the rocks, and in the high country. probably a different type but it grows in the most beautiful patterns and colors. Thanks for sharing.. AND your KIND words today

April said...

Very interesting and thoughtful article. The lichen are really pretty. Also didn't know that about the elk. Wonderful writing.

Sandpiper said...

Beautiful pictures of the lichens and a very interesting post today. It's so interesting to look at things closely like this.

Lynda Lehmann said...

I think it's wonderful how you tune in to nature. Thanks for an interesting post.

A friend of ours who is well versed in nature and outdoor survival told us that Native Americans ate certain species of lichen, but that they had to be boiled first. I'd like to research that, sometime in the future.

I didn't know that they're so sensitive to bad air, like canaries in a coal mine, but I've photographed a number of them and they are just a beautiful and mysterious life form, as you have pointed out!

me and my camera said...

I like lichens too and find there is such a wonderful variety, and some have such fascinating shapes and colours; and interesting names too. I see you have some British Soldiers pictured. Your write up just adds more to their fascination; this is a very informative read.

The Birdlady said...

I have chickadees nesting in one of my nestboxes, and they have used lots of lichen...enjoyed your photos.

Daniel Spurgeon said...

Thanks Ted, for dropping by. I am glad that a studied entymologist as yourself as dropped by. :) One of my good friends is a Zoologist- it is good to have such learned friends.

Daniel Spurgeon said...

Hi Lynda, thanks for your kind feedback. Yes, as you mentioned, some Lichen are edible- there are even reports of early settlers being offered Lichen foods- which some of the settlers reported tasted like soap! That was reported at http://www.lichens.com

Daniel Spurgeon said...

me and my camera (sorry, not sure of your name) :) I am glad that you knew that the name of the red lichen in the posting were British Soldiers. I had thought about mentioning that in the article- but decided against it. I love the name!

Daniel Spurgeon said...

Hi BirdLady, thanks for passing on the info regarding your Chickadees lining their nest with Lichen. A hummingbird out west has been reported to fly great distances from its nest site to bring back Lichen for its nests. An interesting note about that- the hummingbirds do not build their nests in trees that have lichen. Odd.

Lynda Lehmann said...

I'll have to check out the site when I have time. Thanks, Daniel!

The Giraffe Head Tree said...

Fascinating, Daniel. Your macro shots are exquisite. The penny was a great idea. The tiniest things in nature are sometimes more intriguing than the largest. Great post, Daniel!

Kathiesbirds said...

That stuff is deadly beautiful!