Home | Geology & Ecology | Rivers, Wetlands, Precipitation & Aquifers | Wildlife - Terrestrial | Wildlife - Aquatic | Wildlife & Nature Photos of the Ouachita Region | Rare & Endangered Species | Herpetofaunal Biogeography of the Ouachita Region | A Photographic Atlas of the Herpetofauna of the Ouachita Region | BIG Trees of Lake Ouachita! | I really "Lichen" them! | Contact, More Information, Acknowledgments & Guestbook | Links

I really "Lichen" them!

Lichen Closeup showing varied shapes & structures
Jackson Co., FL, Jackson Blue Spring (Actual size <2")

Lichens are one of the most unique and primitive plants on the earth.  They can be found growing nearly everywhere from within large cities, to yards, in agricultural areas, in deserts, in high mountains, from the Tropics, to nearly the North and South Pole.  Lichens grow on rocks, trees, bare soils, gravestones, buildings, bleached bones and even on the bodies of certain insects and other animals.  Read on to learn what Lichens are and their importance! 

A Plant Partnership!  What is a Lichen?

Lichens are a living example of a symbiotic relationship, meaning they are a partnership between two separate plants, a fungus and an algae, to the advantage of both.  The larger body of the fungus provides moisture, minerals and living space for the algae which produce food for the fungus.  The bulk of the lichen is a fungus comprised of a meshwork of minute, thread-like filaments, embedded in this network are multitudes of microscopic, one-celled algae.

Would you Lichen the Facts?

Lichens can thrive in harsh habitats, with little nutrients and extreme conditions.  Lichens are the pioneers of the plant world and can colonize inhospitable habitats such as volcanic areas, deserts and even Arctic tundra.  They play a very important part in breaking down rocks to form soil; and they break down woody debris or dying materials to return nutrients to soils and habitats.  They can survive temperatures well below 0° F and as high as 434° F!  However, they often avoid such extremes by drying out and becoming dormant. 

Over 15,000 species of lichens are currently recognized around the globe.  They are generally earth tones in color, but can be orange to red to purple and a mix of a variety of colors.  Lichens can live to be over 50 years in age, but in some cases, for example in the Arctic, they may be over 4,500 years old!

Usefulness to Humans

Playing a critical role in breaking down rocks and soil formation, along with helping to decompose materials and return nutrients to ecosystems are just some of the ways lichens are beneficial.  They also serve as food to wildlife from reindeer to snails.  Historically people around the planet have used lichens and extracts from them to treat a wide variety of ailments.  Modern medicine has developed antibiotics from certain types of lichens.  Traditionally lichens were used to produce dyes of scarlets, purples, blues, browns and yellows.  One important dye was litmus, used in chemical tests for acidity.  Some lichens have even been used as food by people and as emergency rations.  It is also believed that the manna that sustained the ancient Israelites in the wilderness was a type of lichen still eaten by desert tribes today. 

  Despite their strength and adaptability, many lichens are sensitive to air pollution and can be good indicators as to the health of the environment.

Spanish Moss or a Lichen at Lake Ouachita, Arkansas?

Lichens are abundant throughout Arkansas.  However, Spanish moss is only found in about seven counties in the extreme southern portions of the state.  Spanish moss is absent in the Ouachita mountains, but some people believe it exists, when in actuality they are seeing lichen-draped trees and branches.  In fact, Spanish Moss is not a true moss, but a flowering plant and bears seeds. 

I hope you have now gained an appreciation for the importance of these unique primitive plants, perhaps now some of you may even "Lichen" them too!

Spanish Moss
Uvalde County, TX, Hill Country

Closeup - Lichens hanging like Spanish Moss
Garland Co., AR, north side of Lake Ouachita

Lichens covering a small dead tree
Jackson Co., FL, Compass Lake

Mixed Lichen species
Haywood Co., NC

Closeup of mixed Lichen species
Haywood Co., NC

Lichens hanging from trees like Spanish Moss
Garland Co., AR, north side of Lake Ouachita

Pg. 12: Contact, More Information, Acknowledgments & Guestbook