On a hike at Hidden Valley a few months ago, we were lucky enough to find a plethora of lichen. And this, naturally, began the conversation of what the heck is lichen anyway?
Oh, dear readers, let me tell you.
Have you ever seen the colorful stuff growing on rocks or tree bark? It’s seafoam green, bright red, sun yellow, and all the shades in between? And when you touch it, it’s hard and maybe scaley and maybe a bit raised or maybe a bit flat against its host surface? That stuff is lichen. And it’s awesome.
It’s not the variety that makes lichen awesome (though it does help) but it’s how lichen exists in the world.
First, some context:
A fungus, like a mushroom, is a decomposer: they get their food from decomposing other organic materials. Plants, like trees, flowers, and algae, are producers: they produce their own food through the science (magic?) of photosynthesis. Now, put those two things together, and you’ve got lichen.
Right now, you’re probably like “Whoa, man, that’s crazy. Mind blown. Wowza. Like, totally. Oh my. Lichen is my new favorite thing.” and in the immortal words of Augustine Sughrua, “I’ve taken a likin’ to lichen.” That’s probably all in your head right now.
But wait—there’s more!
Lichen isn’t its own thing—it’s a symbiotic relationship between the algae and the fungus. And it either reproduces by spores or by separating a bit of itself, and then reattaching that bit to something else. And there are so many different kinds of lichen, too, and it’s hard to tell they are related sometimes, since some of the lichen can look like moss, others jelly fungus, and others like spilled paint. Lichen is super diverse and super awesome.
So, on your next hike, keep an eye out for some interesting lichen. And snap a few pictures to share at your next dinner party (pro-tip: lichen is beautiful, intricate, and doesn’t move when you photograph it).
Happy trails & quails, dear readers!