During our trip to the east coast a couple of weeks ago a fair chunk of our time was spent wandering around churchyards and woodland and scrubby heathland. Because the air is so clean in that part of the world the gravestones and the trees, and any dead and rotting wood hosts numerous species of lichen.
A robin watching over the lichen encrusted gravestones in Dunwich St Andrews graveyard
I think lichens are highly under-represented in the annals of popular natural history, but having said that I’ve seen some superb posts from fellow natural history bloggers in the recent past, most notably from ‘btweenblinks‘ and ‘Montana Outdoors‘
There have not been so many from this side of the Atlantic though so here’s my attempt to showcase some of my local lichens. Lichens are a symbiosis between a fungus and an alga where the fungus gathers nutrients from the substrata and the alga provides the photosynthetic apparatus. I’ve read that there are around 1800 species of lichen in the UK alone and up to 20000 globally. They provide homes for spiders and small insects, and have provided various dyes for colouring cloth and the active ingredient of litmus pH indicator is derived from a lichen. And they make great pictures:
Oak moss or antler lichen, Pseudevernia furfuracea
Lichens are difficult to identify without a microscope and reagents for analysing them and the substrata they are growing on, so the identifications in this post are from this guide from the Natural History Museum.
I found the antler lichen growing on a deciduous tree at Dunwich Friary and I think there are probabaly another three species of lichen in this photograph, including the common green shield lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata. I took the picture by standing back a couple of metres and using ISO 400, F/8.0 and shutter speed 1/60s, and there was just sufficient light to make it work. The trees were reverberating with the song of great tits and robins while I was on my lichen hunt making it a very enjoyable couple of hours.
Pleurosticta acetabulum doesn’t have a common name in my NHM guide. I really like the colours in this image, the background is the reedbeds of Minsmere and the diffuse red/brown of the defocussed reeds accentuates the greens, greys and browns of the lichen.
Leafy xanthoria, Xanthoria polycarpa
The leafy xanthoria was ubiquitous in this part of the world, many of the trees were festooned with it. This one was also at RSPB Minsmere with the reedbeds in the background and I like the warm colours especially as this was on a very cold, grey morning.
Forgot to add two things: 1. nice bit of research with your guidebook, you are very thorough in your investigations and I should take a leaf out of your book, and 2. I tried the Divine chocolate melting-only-no-chewing chunk test and managed an excruciating 4 minutes before it disappeared. The temptation to bite it was extraordinary, my teeth were itching to dive in, but no, I withstood the torture just to see how long I could do it for. Have you tried it with those big chunks? It’s almost unbearable.
The pain and the pleasure! The Marquis de Sade didn’t think of that one. But then I suppose he didn’t have big chunks of Divine chocolate. He must be turning in his grave.
Beautiful photographs, as always. I love the Xanthoria polycarpa, it looks like a little cosy jacket for the twig. The robin shot at the top is altogether wonderful – lovely picture of a robin, but also a most attractive gravestone Oddly enough, I’ve just been looking at photos of gravestones myself for a post I’m about to do. They are fascinating things, and combined with birdlife and lichens, well it’s a grand day out, isn’t it?
I find gravestones fascinating on a number of levels. They document the local human history of a community in a non-linear fashion which is fascinating. And as you say, they’re combined with all that wildlife. It is indeed a grand day out.
It’s a win win situation.
I enjoyed seeing your photos of the lichens there. I have more photos also that I will post, and I when the weather lets me get to the trails again, I will make a concerted effort to photograph lichens along with the wildflowers. I feel badly that I have been neglecting the lichens.
I’m really looking forward to seeing your next lichen posts. The enormous outdoors you have in the US must be home to masses of them, and it’s remarkable how similar some of your look to ones I find in the UK.
Nice post Finn! Thanks so much for the mention. I just found a key for Pacific Northwest United States lichens. It is nice because they only list species that are known to exist here. Even with this resource, identification can be difficult at times, but it helps.
Unambiguous identification of lichens is difficult for the non-expert. I guess it’s largely a question of familiarisation, so I shall look for a good quality guide and get out there and practice! And they are highly photogenic.