One of the most active volcanoes of the world, the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii frequently erupts with lava flows to the ocean. The lava hardens into new land where forces began to break down the igneous rock into a hospitable place for plants to grow.
In addition to the physical forces of weathering, lichens contribute to the transformation the barren land into a genial environment for plants. The lichen is the first organisms to latch on to the barren rock where it secretes acids that breaks down the stone into fine sand granules. Decaying lichens and wind-blown dust bind with the sand to form a substrate that is favorable to plants. It is a slow progression from bare rock to forest, sometimes taking centuries to complete.
Lichens are everywhere – in the dry deserts of Africa, the frigid tundra of North America and the frozen regions of Antarctica. But you need not go to these areas of extremes to find these organisms. You will discover lichens growing on fallen, decaying trees in your local park where they decompose dead wood. You may even see them on the bark of trees in your yard. Slow growing, lichens do not harm a healthy tree.
Think how barren and different the earth might be if it were not for lichens pioneering the way for plant life to evolve. We may not be here today if it weren’t for this tiny organism.