Get to know these miracles of nature. Lichen is a life-form separate from plants and moss, fungus and ferns. It is a symbiotic relationship between a fungus, which gives it structure and a photobiotic partner which nourishes it, allowing it to grow. Interestingly the photobiotic partner can be an algae or a blue-green algae, which is not an algae at all but is a cyanobacteria. Even more interestingly, those created with a true algae often provide food for critters from the mighty reindeer to the lowly slug, while those formed by a cynobacteria are toxic to animals but fix nitrogen, so when they decompose they nourish plant life.
There is no end to all the wonders lichen does for the world. Among their greatest hits, they:
- Make oxygen for us to breath.
- Create soil.
- Provide food during times of scarcity.
- Produce beautiful traditional dyes.
- Fix nitrogen from the air, nourishing plants.
- Festoon bare and dead trees.
- Soften and disguise the nests of birds.
- Soften the edges of hardscapes.
- Teach us patience and our place in the world.
Many people would add to that list the way in which they are used as an indicator species to measure air quality, and while I don’t deny this happens, to me it is a bit of a canary-in-the-coal-mine situation where it never ends well for the canary. Perhaps we should instead focus more on leaving the air as clean as we can.
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