Beard lichen, Congaree National Park, Columbia, SC
photo by Thomas Baurley, Technogypsie Photography (c) 2012.
Lichen, beard, beard lichen, algae, fungus, Sunburn, Rock Hair, Yellow Candles, Golden Pine Lichen, Little Clouds, Oak Moss, Crab’s-eye, Coral Crust, Sea Ivory, Crotal Coille – wood crottle, Tree Lungwort, Lobaria pulmonaria, Lus Ghoinnich, Dog Lichen, Peltigera canina, Crotal Dubh – dark crottle,, Heather-rags, Hypogymnia physodes.
Kingdom: Fungi. Phylum: Ascomycota. Class: Lecanoromycetes. Order: Lecanorales. Family: Parmeliaceae. Genus: . species: spp.
Lichens can be found world-wide, from arctic tundra climates, rocky coasts, hot deserts, marshes, fields, and forests. There are numerous species found in the stones, rocks, walls, buildings, soil surfaces, branches and trees in temperate woodlands and rain forests. (Research still pending.)
Lichens are a type of fungus that grows symbiotically with its host plant – usually trees, shrubs, and/or dead wood. Lichens consist of an alga and a fungus living together in a symbiotic association. It relies of its photosynthetic partner (photobiont) to live. This makes it a composite organism. A lichen consists of an upper part of interwoven fibres related to the fungus and a layer of more loosely fibrous structures related to the fungus that surrounds the algae. The algae can carry out photosynthesis and feed the fungi. The fibrous structures that make up the fungi adds support to the algae and keeps the algae from drying out.The photobiont is usually a cyanobacterium or a green algae. They are named after their fungal counterparts. Lichens are quite different however from those of isolated fungus and algae in culture. They are long living but vulnerable to environmental disturbances. Many lichens are known to be very sensitive to environmental pollution, and they have been used as ‘indicators’ of pollution. As they are pokilohydric, they are capable of surviving extremely low levels of water content. Its body is called the thallus and differs from the fungal or algae host growing separately. Fungus surrounds the algal cells often enclosing them within complex fungal tissues unique to lichen associations, often penetrating the algal cell wall and forming penetration haustoria or pegs similar to that of the pathogenic fungi. The cyanobacterial cells or algal are photosynthetic reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide into organic carbon sugars that feed both of the symbionts giving both partners water and mineral nutrients via atmospheric rain and dust. Blue-green algae occur as symbionts in about 8% of known lichens. 90% of known lichens have a green algae as a symbiont with Trebouxia as the most common genus occurring in about 40% of all lichens. The 2nd most common is Trentepohlia. Some lichens have the aspect of leaves, such as in the foliose lichens, while others cover the substrate like a crust, and others adopt shrubby forms or a gelatinous texture. The form varies based on the genetic material of its fungal partner, association with a photobiont to develop it. Lichens reproduce asexually via vegetative reproduction or by dispersal of diaspores containing algal and fungal cells. Many lichen fungi reproduce sexually in like fashion that is typical of fungi by producing spores that are the result of sexual fusion and meiosis. Once merged with a compatible algal host, it can form into a functional lichen. (Research still pending.)
Cultivation: (Research still pending.)
Various species are used to make dyes, perfumes, and decoration. They are made to make perfumes, henna, and shampoo. Lichens produce secondary compounds including pigments that will reduce harmful amounts of sunlight and powerful toxins that can reduce herbivory or kill bacterial elements. Some are used to make dyes such as cudbear and others to extract purple and red coloring. Those in the family Roccellaceae, commonly called orchella weed or orchil are the most popularly used. Orcein and other lichen dyes have largely been replaced by synthetic versions. Lichen dyes are easy to make as it involves simply boiling lichen in hot water or by fermenting the lichen in ammonia. Lichen is used for decoration and crafts, such as for making trees and shrubs in models, and model railroading. They have been used indirectly to make alcohol or molasses, or to feed to livestock. Lichens have also commonly been used as a fiber for many different things, anything from baby diapers to clothing to tinder to bedding. Mixed with tobacco, it was smoked in Mauritania (species Parmelia paraguariensi) as well as being burned as an insect repellent and used as a perfume. The Denís of Amazonian Brazil used pyrenocarpous lichen as recreational snuff. Letharia vulpina and Vulpicida pinastri have been used to poison wolves in Northern Europe and Letharia vulpina to make poison arrowheads by the Achomawi of California. Xanthoria parietina and Parmelia saxatilis are used in the ritual of well-dressing in England to make miniature scenes to decorate wells. The Secwepemc, Nuxalk, and Bella Coola all use Alectoria sarmentosa and Usnea spp. as false whiskers and artificial hair for decorating dance masks, especially for children masquerading. Cladina stellaris has been harvested in large quantities in Scandinavia to make floral decorations, wreaths, and architectural models. Usnea longissima in Northern Europe was the first Yule tree tinsel. Some lichens have been used in tanning and the manufacture of chemicals.
Lichens are often eaten by some animals, including reindeer in arctic regions and the Northern Flying Squirrel. Lepidoptera larvae will also feed exclusively on lichens. Lichens are very low in protein and high in carbohydrates. Some species are eaten by humans in various cultures around the world, especially in times of famine, though considered a delicacy by others. Iceland moss (Cetraria islandica) is an important food source in northern Europe being cooked as a bread, pudding, salad, soup, or porridge. In North America, it was pit cooked. Some at the partially digested reindeer lichen after removing it from the rumen of the deer killed. Rock tripe (Umbilicaria spp.) is frequently used as a emergency food in North America as well as various traditional Korean and/or Japanese foods. There are two problems experienced by humans when eating lichens. These are usually the secondary lichen compound found in them. Most contain a variety of secondary compounds. Lichen compounds are usually acids and have a acrid flavor. Lichen polysaccharides are generally indigestible to humans and some contain a mildly toxic secondary compound that needs to be removed before eating. In fact, there are only two lichen compounds found to be poisonous – the vulpinic acid and pinastric acid, both of which would have to be ingested in significant quantity to be fatal. Very few are poisonous, but those high in vulpinic acid or usnic acid are toxic .These toxic lichen are usually yellow in color. Many lichen compounds are herbivore deterrents causing bad taste, digestive irritation, and toxicity in large quantities for extended periods of time. Other major issue is that the complex carbohydrates in lichens are not easily broken down in the human digestive tract. If the secondary compounds and hydrolyzing the lichen polysaccharides is completed, lichens can be made edible. The most frequently used preparation involves boiling or steaming as suggested by the indigenous practices of various people in India, Europe, and North America. Boiling will hydrolyze the lichen polysaccharides into digestible forms and remove many lichen compounds. Water would be discarded, and the lichen eaten. Some would simply soak or rinse the lichen in water. Northern Europeans as well as the Iroquois of North America would soak lichens in ash water – as wood ash is alkaline, it would have been very effective in removing acidic lichen compounds and hydrolize the polysaccharides. Adding acidic ingredients like onions to food preparation or dilute acid is commonplace when cooking lichen which would also help hydrolyze the polysaccharides and make the lichen compounds more water soluble. Some researchers have found calcium and iron levels in some lichens to be higher than that found in cereals or other green leafy materials. Peltigera canina has been found to be high in proteins and essential amino acids. Before eating lichens, one should be aware of where their lichens come from, as lichens can accumulate toxins from their environment. Cetraria islandica and Cladina spp. have been found to have extroadinarily high levels of lead, mercury, and cadmium. Natural radionuclides Po-210 and Pb-210 both accumulate in lichens, as well as Cs-137 and Sr-90 from nuclear test explosions.
Various species are used in traditional medicines. Some are made to create primitive antiobiotics. In Russia, the Usnea species were used to treat wounds in the mid-20th century. Lobaria pulmonaria is collected in large quantities as Lungwort as it has a very lung-like appearance and sold as a cure for lung diseases. Peltigera leucophlebia is used a supposed cure for thrush as its cephalodia resembles the appearance of the disease. Olivetol is naturally present in certain species of lichens which its share with the cannabis plant, internally producing the related substance of olivetolic acid which can be used to bio-synthesize tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In 1874, Scientists suggested that lichen can be eaten as a substitute carbohydrates by diabetics. Modern research does not suggest that any lichens are a cure for diabetes, but did discover that these lichen polysaccharides were not digestible by humans, dogs, or rabbits and if lichenin and isolichenin are hydrolyzed, they yield glucose and other readily digestible simple sugars. Some lichen compounds can act as antibiotics, fungicides, and herbivore deterrents blessing the lichen some protection, and probably endows the lichen with some medicinal characters as well. Some researchers postulate that over 50% of all lichen species have antibiotic properties and many to suggest anti-tumor agents, antibiotic as well as anti-inflammatory properties. Some research suggests that proto-licheresterinic acid may be invaluable for the treatment of ulcers, cancers, and AIDS prevention. Vulpinic acid also has some mild antibiotic properties.
The mythology seem to embedded be within the naming structure of various Lichen genus and species or common names. Medicinally and magically they are believed to cure whatever they are shaped after. According to the “Doctrine of Signatures” in the 15th century, a plant could be used to treat whatever ailment it most looked like. The name “lichen” comes from the Greek word “Leprous” and refers to the use of some lichens for treating cutaneous diseases due to their peeling-skin appearance. In Scotland, Ireland, England, and Wales the names for the Lichen often relate to what part of the human anatomy or a particular illness that the lichen resembles, with a belief that particular lichen can cure that ailment. Gaelic Lus Ghoinnich is a plant for wounds, Dog Lichen is a cure for the bite of a mad dog – due to the underside bearing fang-like structures, etc. According to Menomini legend, lichens are said to be scabs from the head of Må’nåpus. Må’nåpus placed the scabs where they are to keep his uncles and aunts from starving. Another version of this legend is that the lichens were scabs from when Må’nåpus burned his buttocks, and they came off as he slid down a slanting rock. The Okanagan-Colville have a legend about how Bryoria fremontii was created by originating from Coyote’s hair. The legend has numerous variants but basically involves a coyote trying to catch some swans who end up sweeping him into the sky, flying away with him, and letting go of him when he is high up in the air. As Coyote fell he became caught in the branches of the trees. Once he freed himself he leaves much of his hair entangled in the branches. Therefore, Coyote transformed this hair into Bryoria fremontii, saying “You, my hair, will not be wasted. The coming people will gather you and make you into food.” The Gitksan called a species of lichen Lobaria Nagaganaw meaning “Frog’s dress” or “Frog blanket” which was specifically associated with frogs and used in spring bathing rituals to bring health and long life. In China Usnea diffracta has been called “Lao Tzu’s beard” and has been described as a medicine in Chinese herbals as early as 500 A. D.
Magic: The species of Dictyonema was used by the Waorani as a hallucinogen in shamanistic rituals. An unidentified saxicolous lichen was called “Jievut hiawsik” (means “Earth Flower) by the Pima tribe of California. It was used as a good luck charm and smoked for its narcotic effect. Various lichens have been used as an aphrodisiac. Peltigera canina was used by the Southern Kwakiult as a love charm. The Apache used Letharia vulpina to paint crosses on their feet so they could pass their enemies unseen. A species of Peltigera or Lobaria was called “Frog blanket” by the Gitksan of British Columbia, and because it was associated with frogs it was used in a spring bathing ritual to bring health and long life.
Thomas Baurley, Leafworks Research, www.leafworks.net.
[Official page: http://www.treeleavesoracle.org/treelore/?p=673]. March 3, 2013.
This page is continually being updated as research and facts are revealed.
Please check back often if this is a special interest to you.
Bibliography/ Recommended Reading/ Resources:
- Adams, Scott.
“What’s That On My Trees?”. Website http://danshamptons.com/article/lifestyle/
referenced March 3, 2013.
- Ahmadjian, V.
1993 – “The Lichen Symbiosis”. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
- Brodo, I.M., S.D. Sharnoff, S. Sharnoff.
2001 – “Lichens of North America”. Yale University Press, New Haven.
- Casselman, Karen Diadick and Karen Leigh.
2001 – “Lichen Dyes: The New Sourcebook. Dover publications.
- Knowles, M.C.
1929 – “Lichens of Ireland”. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 38: 1-32.
- Sanders, W. B.
2001 – “Lichens: Interface between mycology and plant morphology”. BioScience 51 (12): 1025-1035.
- University of Victoria
- Ethno-lichen study. Website http://web.uvic.ca/~stucraw/part2AM.html visited and referenced March 3, 2013.
- Ward, Stephen.
“Naturally Scottish: Foreward on Lichens.” Web site http://www.snh.org.uk/publications/on-line/NaturallyScottish/lichens/ referenced March 3, 2013.