Filed under: Noticing Nature.
One of my favorite spots at NLT is on Guadalupe trail, near where it begins off the Saranac trail. It’s an open area with thin soil that is covered with lichens and mosses.By the time I’ve walked there from 236, I usually give in to the temptation to sit a spell on the mosses. I’m intrigued by the lichens there for many reasons, the latest of which is the chance to use a new field guide called “Lichens of the North Woods”. At first glance, the area seems only to contain the grayish lichen called Green Reindeer Lichen. On closer inspection though, you will see that some of the lichen clumps are more of a sage green and are neatly rounded. These are the closely related Star-tipped Reindeer Lichen.
If you get down on your belly and really start to look (as I did for a short while), you’ll start to see more lichens, such as the tiny bugle-shaped Pixie cup lichens (above) and the red-topped British soldier lichens (below). I feel sure I would have found others if I had kept looking.
The most amazing thing about lichens is that they are actually two organisms in one. A lichen consists of an algae living within a fungus. The relationship is so intimate that you cannot distinguish the fungal tissue from the algae without a microscope and they are rarely able to survive without each other. Each partner brings adaptations that, when combined, allow lichens to survive in environments with minimal water and/or nutrients or in environments subjected to extremes of temperatures and radiation. Ecologically speaking, lichens on bare rock, soil or tree bark trap organic matter around them, paving the way for plants to eventually grow.