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I’m Lichen What I See!

Tree branch with lichen on it at Avon Woods

I’m Lichen What I See!

Walking through the woods this week, a bright minty green color may catch your eye. Lichens are a unique composite organism that is formed with algae living among fungi species. This is what we refer to as a mutualistic relationship – beneficial to both organisms involved.

Lichens are pioneer organisms. They are the first to appear on rocks after disaster wiped out all other life.

Lichens lack the root system that plants have, therefore they don’t need soil to grow. They also don’t have stomata– these are like leaf guardian cells that open and close to allow gases to pass through. Therefore, pollutants can greatly affect some species, and can actually prove to be a bellwether for environmental air quality.

Although some species of lichen can have some toxic elements, others have been used throughout history and across cultures as a food source, especially during times of famine, such as reindeer moss and rock tripe.

Some types we find in Cincinnati Parks are Common Greenshield and Rough Speckled Shield (gray).

This symbiotic relationship works so the fungus grows around the algal cells. The fungus benefits from the constant supply of food produced by the photosynthesizing algae. The algae benefits from the water and nutrients absorbed by the fungus. It’s a win-win – a nice reminder to help each other out!