Lichen what I’m seein’. Now excuse me while I get a head start on the pitchfork-wielding mob. —MN
Seriously, why do folks still roll their eyes when we get excited about these algal/fungal symbiotes? —MN
A Thing I Learned Today (or ATILT): lichens can be used for a handful of novel applications beyond covering boulders with crusty colors.
Where grass is rare, lichens are often used as a food source by grazing animals; reindeer farmers north of the Arctic Circle gather them to feed their herds through the winter, while sheep in the deserts of North Africa tend to lap up crustose lichens from rocks. Civilizations have also been known to use lichens to make dye for textiles, such as the Rocella species used to create “Orseille,” a deep purple hue favored by royalty in medieval times.
And scenting perfumes and soaps? Yep, lichens. So the next time you’re out cavorting through the wilderness, don’t overlook the little guys. Click through for a neat gallery with more info, or check out our most recent field update from one of the NYBG’s foremost lichen experts, Dr. James Lendemer.
Oh, and another thing I learned? The plural for “lichen” is “lichens.” Don’t go the moose route unless you’re looking for trouble. —MN
Lichen Prove to be Toughest Life on Earth
You can freeze it, thaw it, vacuum dry it and expose it to radiation, but still life survives. ESA’s research on the International Space Station is giving credibility to theories that life came from outer space– as well as helping to create better sunscreens.
That’s not a desktop computer tower or an in-flight beverage cart up above. It’s the Expose-E. Sort of like Wall-E in that it’s capable of venturing into space while also storing plants inside of itself for safe keeping.
Well, maybe not safe keeping, but some kind of keeping. After 18 months spent strapped to the outside of the ISS, braving all the highs and lows of existence in a vacuum, the vegetative matter inside came home. And scientists found that lichen, of all things, had proven some of the toughest stuff on or off the Earth. Now, scientists are wondering if lichen’s ability to exist in the void moves us closer to believing that life hitched a ride to this planet on an asteroid.
They also want to use the stuff to make sunscreen lotion. So I guess that’s a thing. —MN
NYBG Doctoral student James Lendemer names a newly discovered fungus after the don of rare plant research, Dr. Alfred “Ernie” Schuyler of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.