They want to choose a provincial lichen. Who? What?
Believe it not, there are actually people who call themselves lichen enthusiasts – people who search and study and get excited about lichens – and they want to choose a provincial lichen for Nova Scotia. Like the Mayflower is our provincial flower, the osprey is our provincial bird and the wild blueberry is our provincial berry.
These lichen enthusiasts have to choose their recommendation before Tuesday, Jan. 23 but they are hoping for some public input – and rightly so; this lichen is going to represent all of us in Nova Scotia.
To make it easier for those of us with little knowledge about lichens, the enthusiasts have put together a shortlist, with photos, and an online poll over at www.lichensns.com/poll .
If you’re at all interested, you can mull over their list, maybe google up some photos and information, and then make a choice.
Ideally if we had more time, (and there wasn’t a storm barreling down on us this weekend), we’d all go for a little walk and see if we can actually find some of these lichens in the woods around us – we could treat the lichen list as a sort of scavenger hunt, go out and try to see the lichens in the real world.
Cause here’s the thing: lichens are all around us and most of us hardly notice them.
Have you ever seen a gathering of little pale green sprouts with pretty red tips on a rotting log, the little sprouts appearing almost lined up like soldiers on parade? That’s the British Soldier Lichen with a latin name of Cladonia cristatella – Cladonia comes from Greek through Latin and means sprout; cristatella, means it has a little tuft on top.
Cladonia are a very common lichen although most are a plain pale green or yellow without the red splash of the British Soldier Lichen – in the harsh environment up North, these “reindeer lichen” carpet the ground for miles and miles and are the main source of food for caribou and reindeer for example. Here in Nova Scotia, you will see reindeer lichens carpeting boulders or open bogs, paler generally and finer than moss.
Another lichen you might have seen hanging on boulders of Nova Scotia like ragged bits of brown lettuce is called rock tripe or Umbilicaria mammulata.
How about Old Man’s Beard? A yellowy green lacy thing hanging in the branches of trees that birds love for their nests – that’s a lichen. Another you’ve probably seen a million times and never noticed is the Crumpled Rag Lichen – again hanging in the branches of trees like a crumpled rag.
Lichens have some great names don’t they?
On the enthusiasts’ lists is the Yellow Specklebelly – now there’s a name! They also listed Acadia Bearded Jellyskin Lichen and Blue Felt Lichen.
A few of us headed out last week when we heard about the poll to do some lichen hikin’ and we found a few Yellow Specklebellys on the Acacia Valley Trails. Other lichens from the list, you can see at the Acacia Valley Trails include Old Man’s Beard and Crumpled Rag Lichen. You will definitely see Tree Lung Wort and if it weren’t for the snow, you’d see some great clumps of several kinds of reindeer lichens.
So what are lichens? It’s complicated and that is probably my favourite thing about them – even scientists are still getting their heads around how much we still have to learn about lichens.
Basically a lichen is a partnership between a fungus and a plant-like thing called an algae (best known as the scummy stuff on ponds) – although sometimes, instead of algae, the fungus teams up with a thing called cyanobacteria (a type of single celled organism that can create energy from sunshine – again like plants but not like plants).
Anyway the deal is, both partners bring something to the table – the fungus protects and gives structure to the algae (kind of like the skin and bones of the lichen) and the algae create energy. The fungus seeks out water, breaks down minerals in rock, and the algae makes food. The deal is different for every lichen as different fungus team up with different algae in different ways.
But let’s get back to what you and I see when we look at lichens: for starters, some lichens, like some mushrooms are a little icky but some lichens, and some mushrooms, are startlingly beautiful when you stop and look at them.
And that’s the fun part about lichen hikin: you can go out today, even on a trail you know extremely well and find a whole new world with beautiful landscapes to explore.
Speaking of which, I gotta go and see some lichens before the storm hits so I can vote before Tuesday.
Which is your favourite and why?
P.S. The Balancing Rock Trail has an interpretative panel with photos of some of the lichens you might see out there including Old Man's Beard, Tree Lung Wort, and Star-tipped Reindeer Lichen which are on the enthusiast's list.
Jonathan Riley, trails and open space coordinator with the Municipality of the District of Digby