Liking Lichen

Rocks with moss and lichen, January, California

Rocks with moss and lichen, January, California

After several years of drought in northern California, this winter has been especially exciting for observing lichen and moss, due to recent rains.


Moss is a flowerless, living plant — very different than lichen.


Lichen are actually a union of two separate organisms:  fungi and algae.  It is a  symbiotic relationship in which a fungus pairs up with algae. Algae produce food by photosynthesis, for the fungus; and the fungus in turn gives the algae a place to live.


moss and lichen, California

moss and lichen, California

Lichen grows on almost any surface:  bark, moss, leaves, other lichen, walls, gravestones, roofs.  It grows in forests, arctic tundra, deserts, and cities; it can even survive unprotected in space.   For more info about lichen click here.

lichen, California

Lichen species vary depending on the host environment.  For instance, we have a lot of oakmoss lichen, Evernia prunastri, where I live.


It grows on the trunks and branches of oak trees.  It is found in many temperate mountain forests throughout the Northern Hemisphere, including other parts of North America, as well as France, Portugal, Spain, and much of Central Europe.


On my morning walks, especially after a windy night, I often find many small branches that have broken off the oak trees and blown to the ground.  They’re loaded with oakmoss lichen.  One year I found a hummingbird nest, made of this lichen, in an oak tree directly above a lot of these branches.


lichen, California

oakmoss lichen, California

About 6% of earth’s land surface is covered by lichen.  They are a pioneer species, meaning they are one of the first organisms to begin growing in an area that has been denuded by disaster.


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Lace lichen, Courtesy

Last month California became the first state with an official state lichen:  Ramalina menziesii, also known as lace lichen.  It ranges from Alaska to Baja California.


Lichen is eaten by some animals, used for nesting, contributes nitrogen to soils, and was once used as a form of dye.  In the past humans used it for food, but it is generally indigestible and mildly toxic.  It also serves as a sort of litmus for testing levels of air pollution.


Moss mustache, Costa Rica

Marino Chacon, bird guide, Savegre, Costa Rica with moss mustache

And for those of us who like to get silly in the woods, forest growth is an excellent source of entertainment.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted



67 thoughts on “Liking Lichen

  1. If Lichen is good for hummingbird nests then it’s wonderful stuff:) Once again I learn so much when reading your blog….Fascinating as ever….thank you so much, and hope you enjoy a lovely Monday….Janet:)

    • You would probably enjoy knowing, Janet, the hummingbirds are nesting now in our neck of the woods. I saw a female gathering nesting materials last week, but her nest was about 300 feet up. Every spring I search for their nests, have only found the one (mentioned here) in over a decade of serious searching. Thanks very much, Janet, as always.

      • I do enjoy knowing this……It’s a very cold and frosty morning in London and so the thought of a little hummingbird making such an intricate nest high up in the trees surrounding you, is indeed a lovely thought. Have a beautiful day….Janet.

  2. Thank you very much for clarifying the relationship between lichen and moss. One of the reasons I love walking through the woods and mountains of Washington is the abundance of lichen and mosses. Thanks.

    • Oh boy, Brick, the northwest is loaded with both lichen and moss, so very beautiful. I once hiked through the Hoh Rainforest in western Washington, and I couldn’t believe all the moss and lichen. I am glad to know you have enjoyed the moss and lichen on your trails too. Many thanks, as always. 😀

    • I truly love the Great Basin deserts, but I have only been through there twice and I couldn’t remember seeing any there. So I am really glad, CS, to know lichen is there. Cheers and thanks!

  3. What a wonderful post! Loved the photos (working on a moustache to accompany my old man’s beard), and always enjoy the presence of lichens to indicate clean air – as well as being simply beautiful. Thanks, Jet!

    • Yes, so many interesting aspects to lichen, and you’re right, pc, also simply beautiful. I’m glad you liked the lichen today, my friend. Thanks so much for your kind words. 😀

  4. I’m likin’ this post a lot! That’s because I learned even more about lichen than I reckoned knew. I can’t really liken it to anything else. I had a great chuckle on the title “Liking Lichen”. Thanks, Jet!

  5. Beautiful creatures! There is a species called Iceland Moss. This lichen produces some antibiotic-like substance and cures lung diseases. My grandmother was a great herbalist and taught me many useful things 🙂

  6. So interesting a post,dear Jet!There are some primitive plants and living organisms that surprise us with the way they live together and support each other.The chain is unbreakable if humans don’t disturb their lives.Your detailed illustrations and Athena’s photos have given answers to my questions concerning lichen and moss.I could see them together on tree barks,on rocks,but I could never tell them apart.To my eyes,it was a greenish-grayish sort of plant.They so harmoniously coexist!Athena’s first photo,with the roundish smouth rocks and with the lichen-moss green carpets on,looks like nature-made Public Art.Hope you’re keeping well.Enjoy the oncoming weekend 🙂 * V * xxx

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the lichen post, dear Doda. With the rains we are having, both lichen and moss have been magically sprinkled in so many spots, it is a joy to behold. And you’re right, they are at times difficult to distinguish from one another. I like your description of “nature-made Public Art” and in fact, I took that from our back deck one morning when I was so dazzled by the beauty. Wonderful to receive your visits today, thank you so much, my friend. {*^*}

      • Wonderful to receive your rich reply,dear Jet!You’re a great photographer too!Btw,while reading about the Moss and seeing the rock photo,I rememberd an old proverb which says : “A rolling stone gathers no moss”,its interpretation varies,it depends how you’re looking at the stone,at the moss … lol 🙂 xxx

      • The perfect proverb for this post, Doda! And I like your interpretation of it, gave me a smile. Thank you so much for your kind words today, dear Doda, and for giving me many smiles. Enjoy your weekend! 😀

    • Yes, I see little lacy tufts of it all over the ground and on rocks, old cemeteries. I learned a lot more when I researched for the post. And am glad I could share it with you, here, Andrea. Thanks for stopping by~~

    • Yes, it is amazing how different the light is on fresh, damp moss and lichen. So dazzlingly emerald. So glad you enjoyed it, dear Nan — thanks for your visits today!

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