I’m Liking Lichen

– Posted in: Garden Adventures

My husband and I had the lake in Colorado, at 11,000 feet elevation, to ourselves except for occasional hikers a mile away—colorful specks on a timberline trail whose voices carried in the thin air. While Jeff fished, although I wasn’t bored exactly, I began noticing lichens. I’m here to tell you, Rocky Mountain lichens are as impressive as lava flows.

According to Wikipedia, lichen is comprised of a fungus and a photosynthetic partner (usually green algae). Lichens occur in some of the most extreme environments on earth—arctic tundra, hot deserts, rocky coasts, and toxic slag heaps—as well as  bare rock, walls and gravestones.

Lichens that are vulnerable to environmental disturbance may be used by scientists to assess air pollution, ozone depletion, and metal contamination.

These lichens looked fragile yet were cemented to the stones. In any case, I wasn’t enough of an environmental disturbance to detach them.

Sit still long enough, and wildlife forget you’re there. Squirrel-sized rodents that looked like guinea pigs popped in and out of the rocks, squeaking like dog toys. Our terrier went nuts whenever she heard a pika (also called coney or rock rabbit). In determined yet fruitless pursuit, she used four-paw drive to navigate the uneven terrain.

That evening, outside a rustic cabin, we cooked trout over an open fire. Deer kept returning to a nearby clearing, gazing at us as though we were from another world. Indeed we were.

 

Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored the Timber Press bestsellers Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified. Debra is a regular contributor to Sunset and other publications, and her own half-acre garden near San Diego has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens. Debra specializes in showing how to use architectural, waterwise and easy-care succulents in a wide variety of appealing and creative applications. www.debraleebaldwin.com.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin

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Cindy Davison September 5, 2012, 1:42 am

What a beautiful location, Debra. I was just reading today that lichen is one of the materials hummingbirds use to build their nests with ~

Really? Wow, that’s wonderful! Come to think of it, I have seen it in hummingbird nests. — Debra

Susan in the Pink Hat September 5, 2012, 9:47 am

Those little rodents are Pikas. You were lucky to see them. They are very shy and skittish.

Hi, Susan — I was holding my camera when the pika popped out of the rocks, and ever so slowly, lest I startle it, I snapped a couple of shots. Even so, this one has been cropped from the original. –Debra

Susan from Vista September 5, 2012, 1:20 pm

I have had a fondness for lichen since being introduced to them at 6 th grade camp on Palomar Mt. Now, I even have more appreciation for them. Thanks DLB

Hi, Susan — You know, ever since returning home, I’ve been looking for lichen on rocks and haven’t seen any. We hiked the Discovery Hills trail last weekend near you. I suspect it’s too dry here. — Debra

ricki September 6, 2012, 4:24 am

I have had similar experiences as the non-fishing member of fishing trips. Love the lichen shots.

Thanks, Ricki. I’m seldom bored when I have my camera! As long as there’s light, there’s beauty. — Debra

Noel Kingsbury September 18, 2012, 3:02 am

I’m glad to see someone picking up on lichen. They really are beautiful. I remember really getting in to them as a teenager interested in plant life. We can’t grow them, nor will they necessarily survive being moved around if their substrate is moved (like the wooden garden furniture that gets garnished with lichen in the west of England and Wales), so you have to appreciate them where they are.