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Pacific Northwest Lichens


Lichens are so special. I love that they are two very different beings (a fungus and an algae) living intimately together as one organism. They both benefit from this relationship. The fungus collects water and provides a physical structure to the algae to protect it from excess sunlight and water loss. Fungi are incapable of making their own food, so the algae performs photosynthesis to provide carbohydrates for the both of them. By bonding together, they can withstand extreme conditions.  If only more of the world, especially humans, were this way. (They remind me of my grandparents relationship, my grandfather was very old fashioned, very protective, but couldn't for the life of him make himself something to eat:)  While my grandmother was an amazing cook.)

They are hardy, live a long life and grow slowly, this allows them to survive in many inhospitable environments. They are specially adapted to withstand extremes of moisture and temperature. When moisture is available, the fungus takes it up which causes a mechanical change that allows more light in, triggering photosynthesis and new food and tissue is made. When it is dry, the lichen simply goes dormant and does not grow but is still living.

Lichens are thought to be among the oldest living things on earth. Approximately 18,000 species of lichen have been identified worldwide! 


Some interesting lichen quotes: 

"Lichens are fungi that have discovered agriculture" - lichenologist Trevor Goward.

“One could speculate that lichens would be among the last inhabitants to succumb on a dying earth at some distant point in the future.” - Steven L. Stephenson, The Kingdom Fungi: The Biology of Mushrooms, Molds, and Lichens

Consider the Lichen. Lichens are just about the hardiest visible organisms on Earth, but the least ambitious.” Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

"But what is life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours-arguably even stronger.  If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would loose the will to go on." - Bill Bryson

"A truly good book is something as wildly natural, and primitive, mysterious and marvelous, ambrosial and fertile as a fungus or a lichen." - Henry David Thoreau