The winter woodlands is a dismal place with lifeless trees and shrubs, dried dead flowers and grasses and exposed decaying leaf litter and twigs. If you look beyond this bleak landscape, you will discover an intriguing world of plant-like organisms called lichens inhabiting the nooks and crannies of tree bark, fallen branches and boulders.
Although they often come in hues of green, lichens are not plants. They are two organisms – a fungus and an algae* – fused together to form a unique species. It is a partnership where the fungus provides a place for the algae to grow and the algae provides food for the fungus.
There are different species of lichens depending on the specific combination of algae and fungus. Some are leafy, others are crusty, many are shrub-like and others look like tiny plants. Although many of them come in various hues of green – gray-green, aqua green, pale green, olive-green and everything in between – some species are a variety of reds, oranges, yellows and browns.
I find lichens such fascinating organisms that I will devote several blogs on its role in the environment and relationship to wildlife. I hope you find them as interesting as I do.
*Another group of organisms, the cyanobacteria can also be a partner and sometimes organisms from all three groups can form a lichen.