Winter strips the branches bare, alters the light and provides a view into things easily missed in the growth and abundance of the other seasons.
Lichens have caught my “winter eye” this past week as the sun has shone warmly, drawing me outdoors.
Here are a few facts that I have learnt about these amazing life forms, which if left undisturbed can live for centuries.
15,000 lichens have been described and all are formed by, at least, 2 or 3 organisms – fungus, algae and sometimes blue/green algae.
These organisms ensure each survives thanks to a symbiotic relationship. Algae provide nutrients through photosynthesis which nourishes the fungi while fungi provide shelter to the algae.
Lichens can exist in all environments from hot, dry, wet, frozen but are not aquatic. They can grow on many surfaces. My photos show lichens on trees, terracotta pots and concrete. But do look out for them on soil, leaves, animal bones, desert sand, woody debris and on other lichens.
Most grow less than a millimeter in a year and can shut down metabolically when conditions become very unfavourable.
They come in a wide range of colour, shape and size (from 1 mm to 3 metres). They are non-poisonous and considered edible. Have I tried eating any? Well, no…
But the fact about Lichens that really struck me is their ability to produce more than 500 unique biochemical compounds that can control light exposure, kill attacking microbes and discourage competition from other plants.
What more could be learnt from these unique compounds that might be of sustainable use to us on the planet I wonder?
And what do the photos of lichen remind you of? Coral formations? Space stations on far away planets? I’d be interested to know.