Lichen – cooler than algea.
You know that thing that happens when you take a holiday to a remote and beautiful part of the world? A place where the beauty takes your breath away, and you remember that the earth is an amazing place and you need to spend more time soaking in the staggeringly rejuvenating qualities of nature?
That blessed feeling of re-awakening usually happens when I come HOME from a holiday – but then I guess that’s the price you pay when you live in a place like Freycinet. But of all the images that might make me homesick, the ones that really catch my heart are of our lichen. Kind of, I’m sure you’ve seen them; those iconic granite boulders that look like someone spilled a can burnt orange paint on them? Usually surrounded by pristine white sand and clear waters…
It’s not paint – it’s not moss, or algae either – it’s lichen, which is pretty cool.
Lichen is the result of a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungus. The fungus can’t exist alone so it uses the algae’s photosynthesis to create nutrients so it can continue its existence. The algae in turn uses the fungus for both insulation and hydration. Lichen can survive in climates and places that neither algae, nor fungus would be able.
It’s estimated that lichen covers approximately 7% of the earth’s surface with some of it as old as 4000 years. There are thought to be about 20,000 species, Tasmania is thought to have up to 1500 varieties. It grows on rocks, tress, fence posts – (all over the Freycinet Peninsula and the Bay of Fires!), pretty much anywhere that is predominantly undisturbed, has some light, and most importantly, clean air. Lichen is sensitive to pollution so you will not see it in heavily populated cities or industrial areas.
Lichen is usually very slow growing, but seems to live for a very long time. Remarkably hardy, it will survive long periods of dehydration, quickly re-absorbing any moisture as soon as it becomes available, whether it be rain, or just mist. It can also withstand fluctuating temperatures. In 2005, two species of Lichen were sealed in capsule and actually sent into space for 15 days. On it’s return, both specimens were found to be in perfect health!
Image Credit Lee Duguid
What does Beatrix Potter have to do with lichen?