Saucer lichen produces saucer-like fruiting bodies.

Get ‘enlichened’ about lichen

Lichens have become an important tool for scientists who study pollution

Today’s ‘herbal healers,’ praise the benefits of Usnea to treat upper respiratory infections, and as a potent anti-bacterial medication. Usnea is a species of hanging hair lichen often known as witch’s hair or old man’s beard.Lichens don’t often pop up in everyday conversation, but that may soon change. Like the canary in a coal mine, lichens – which prefer pristine environments – have become an important tool for scientists who study pollution. Sensitive to airborne pollutants, lichens are a natural indicator of air quality, and can act as an early warning system for measuring air quality.Lichens are not plants; neither are they mosses; they are simply lichens, capable of deriving all they need from the environment, without roots or a vascular system. A lichen absorbs water and nutrients directly through its surface.Folks could be excused for thinking lichens are plants, as shrubby and leaf-like forms resemble gray-green plants. Crusty or dusty lichens grow on rocks in a rainbow of colours, and Usnea forms intricately branched, hanging filaments. While lichen life forms appear in many different shapes, they never form leafy stems, and do not attach with true roots. Lichens are formed in a mutually beneficial biological partnership between a fungus and another organism (green algae or cyanobacteria) which is capable of producing food by photosynthesis. In this way, the fungus shares the food energy.Lichens love winter, choosing to grow only when the thermometer drops, so late winter is prime time to go lichen hikin’. This is also their reproduction time. Fruiting bodies (spore-producing) on lichen may resemble chocolate chips, tiny saucers, miniature goblets or even lipstick-stained clubs. Long ago, the ever-resourceful First Nations people were among the first to recognize and utilize the antibiotic properties of lichen. They used this absorbent material as wound dressing and diaper material. Lacking ammonia, they soaked lichen in urine to create colourful dyes for clothing, basketry and art. According to lichenologist Trevor Goward, “lichens are the most overlooked of the conspicuous organisms in the natural landscape.” Nevertheless, our world would be poorer without them. In the far north, reindeer moss and arboreal lichen constitute 90 per cent of the caribou food source, while early explorers boiled leafy lichens as famine food. Over 50 bird species choose lichen to soften their nests. And lichen extracts, with their antibiotic properties, remain popular ingredients in herbal remedies. Find Vancouver Island backyard bird posters at Coho Books and Campbell River Museum. E-mail Christine at: wildernesswest@shaw.ca.

Just Posted

Diver discovers possible historic anchor off Campbell River

The rusted, barnacle-encrusted anchor was wedged into the bottom off Quadra Island… Continue reading

Cold weather puts pressure on homeless shelters in Campbell River

Salvation Army and Sobering Centre offer a total of 40 beds

SRD chair, CAO to respond to 32 letters from Cortes Island

Board votes for responses in light of delegations being turned down

Back to school for Vancouver Island’s snow-covered kids, more snow coming

All school districts in business this morning but officials warn another 5-10 centimetres today

Comox Strathcona Waste Management looks at tipping fees

Fees part of planned review that could offset future tax hikes in regions

VIDEO: Historic night in Red Deer as 2019 Canada Winter Games kicks off

Star-studded Opening Ceremony features athletes from across Canada

Ontario police field complaints over Amber Alert for missing girl, 11, found dead

Some said the Amber Alert issued late Thursday for Riya Rajkumar disrupted their sleep

Names keep adding to vaccine petition started by B.C. mom

Maple Ridge mom started campaign to make vaccination a condition of attending school

Northern B.C. First Nation clan says ancient tools found at pipeline work site

Archeologists from the Smithsonian Institute estimate one of the stones found dates back up to 3500 years

Wilson-Raybould resignation stokes anger, frustration within veterans community

Liberals have had three veterans-affairs ministers — Kent Hehr, Seamus O’Regan and Wilson-Raybould

No Center of Gravity festival in Kelowna this summer: organizers

COG organizers said the hope is to return to the Okanagan in 2020

Eight cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver outbreak

Coastal Health official say the cases stem from the French-language Ecole Jules Verne Secondary

Plecas won’t run in next election if B.C. legislature oversight reforms pass

B.C. Speaker and Abbotsford South MLA says he feels ‘great sympathy’ for Jody Wilson-Raybould

Most Read