Posts Tagged ‘British Soldier Lichens’

Two of my great loves are history and botany and one of the best ways I know of to get a good dose of both is by following stone walls. This particular wall is in Swanzey, New Hampshire and surrounds what I believe is the oldest cemetery in town. Revolutionary war soldiers are buried here so it certainly has some age.

Right off I spotted some sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s very yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine.

Sulfur dust lichens are kind of granular in texture. If you’re lucky you can sometimes find them with fruiting bodies (apothecia) but more often than not I see them when they aren’t producing spores.

There are stone walls called “lace walls” which are built of a stack of stones just one stone wide, and which are full of holes that make them look like lace, but this is a tossed wall sometimes three or four stones wide and it was built to keep animals, probably sheep, out. There were no holes when it was built but there are now, as this photo shows. I can’t explain how it happened but I’ve built enough dry stone walls to know that building a hole like this one into a tossed wall would be close to impossible. In a tossed wall the stones are literally just tossed on top of one another. The object wasn’t to build a pretty wall; it was to get rid of the stones as quickly and efficiently as possible. I think a stone must have fallen or been taken out of the wall to create such a hole.

There are a lot of tree stumps along the wall and some of them, like the one above, are very old. Not only was this one covered with moss and lichens, it also had birch trees growing out of it. Stumps like this are always worth a second look.

The old stump had more British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) growing on it than I’ve ever seen in one place. Old rotted logs and stumps are the perfect spots to find them.

Even I can see this shade of red, and I’m colorblind.

A large pile of sand at the base of another hollow tree stump meant that something was living under it. Possibly a ground hog, but I didn’t see a single paw print.

This old maple tree was covered on its sunny side by whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.) This is a tough, crusty lichen that is fairly common on hardwood tree bark. They can cover quite a large area and make the tree look as if it has been painted, hence the common name. They can be greenish white, silvery, or bright white.

As time passed barbed wire was often added to stone walls to keep animals in or out. Stone walls were usually too low to be effective and cows and other farm animals often jumped right over them, so their height was increased by adding wire or other materials. You had to pay a fine if your animals escaped and were caught roaming free. They were brought to the town pound and the owner had to pay to get them back. This wire grew out of the very center of a pine tree, so it has been here for quite a while. Running their saw into steel wire is one of a wood cutter’s worst nightmares come true but many things have been found inside trees, from axe heads to gravestones to even bicycles.

Every time I see rusty old barbed wire stapled to a tree I think about a book I read by a man who lived in a cabin in the Massachusetts woods. He said that one of his favorite things to do was run through the woods at night. He wouldn’t want to do that here. I wouldn’t even run through these woods in broad daylight because much of what is now forest was once pasture, and there is a lot of barbed wire out there.

Peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on stone walls. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia, where their spores are produced, are large and easy to see without aid.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) on the other hand, are quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do.

Sometimes it isn’t what is on the stone that interests me, it’s the stone itself. I’m not sure if this pattern was on the stone or part of it but it was very interesting. Also interesting was how it had absolutely nothing growing on it when all of the stones around it had mosses and lichens growing on them.

I never knew my grandfather but I do know that he made his living as the town blacksmith in Westmoreland, New Hampshire, and this old horse hitching ring brought thoughts of him to mind. If he was lucky a blacksmith might make a dollar a day but very little cash changed hands in colonial America so he most likely would have been paid in food, charcoal for the forge, lumber, or something else he needed. In the early 1800s blacksmiths charged anywhere from 2 cents for an axe wedge to $5.50 for all of the ironwork on a new wagon. That would include springs, axles, brakes, and rims for the wheels. I have a photo of my grandfather working on a wagon wheel in his blacksmith shop. The wheel sits on top of a big wooden keg that he probably made the iron hoops for. I hope he was paid more than they were in colonial times.

Some of the stones in this old wall are not natural, meaning they were cut or quarried. There is a large granite outcrop just up the hill from this spot and stone was taken from it using star drills and sledge hammers, I would imagine. The marks of the old hand drills are still easily seen on some of the stones. It’s unusual to see both natural and cut stones together in a wall; usually they’re made of one or the other but the farmer could have been trying to increase the height of his walls.

Some of the quarried granite was used for fence posts. Four posts were put in around certain family plots in the cemetery and chain hooks were added by drilling a hole into the top of each post and hammering a hook into the hole.  I’m not sure if friction alone held the hooks in the holes or if cement was added to hold them, but after over 200 years they are still solid and immovable.

Once chain was added the family plot was enclosed but still visible to anyone trying to find it. This chain looks like it was hand wrought.

Blacksmiths don’t cast iron; they soften it by heating it in a forge and then shaping it with a hammer, and I love how you can see all the hammer blows on this chain hook. I also love how the smith fashioned something as simple as a chain hook into what looks like a dragon’s tail. He didn’t have to do this; it was extra work that he probably wasn’t paid for, but he was good and would have wanted people to know his work. If I needed ironwork done and I saw this hook and the ones in the previous photos I would have chosen the smith who made this one. It’s a beautiful thing which, if I owned it, would be considered a work of art.

Sometimes these posts wander in unplanned directions and almost write themselves, and this is one of those; l felt as if I were just along for the ride instead of the one doing the writing. It began in the old cemetery and I just tagged along with the camera while the story wrote itself in my mind, so I hope you won’t mind that there is a little more history than botany in this one. Though I expected the post to be full of mosses and lichens for me the history I found was a refreshing diversion while I wait for spring flowers to appear, and thoughts of my hammer wielding grandfather ran all through the day. I wonder if he ever imagined that one of his grandsons would grow up to be a stone wall builder.

Stones are all about time—time to find them, to move them, to place them, and time, occasionally, to chisel and shape them. And above all, time to see them, experience them, and fall under their spell. ~Charles McRaven

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Unfortunately there are people who think that once the leaves have fallen there is nothing left to see outside until spring, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Lichens for instance, are there year round and unless you live in a place with poor air quality they are everywhere; on trees, on stones, on the ground, and even on buildings, roofs, windows, and sidewalks. They are like small jewels that have been sprinkled throughout nature and one of my favorites is the smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) shown above. The blue dots are called apothecia and are where its spores are produced. They are blue because of the way the light reflects off the thin wax coating that they are covered by. In this case the body of the lichen, called the thallus, is a brownish gold color. The thallus can also be gray and the apothecia gray to black. One of the things that can make lichen identification difficult is the ability of some lichens to change color in different light, and this is one that does. It can look very different just a few feet away.

The apothecia on this star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris), is a good example of how colors can change, even on the same lichen. This lichen has dark brown apothecia that are often pruinose. Pruinose refers to the white, waxy, powdery coating like that found on the smoky eye boulder lichen in the previous photo. You’ve no doubt seen examples of this waxy “bloom” on blueberries and plums. I’ve noticed by watching lichens that have pruinose apothecia that the coating can reflect light in different ways, sometimes appearing gray and at other times more blue, and sometimes even black. The apothecia on this lichen show a range of colors, from brown to light blue. The way the sunlight strikes it has a lot to do with its colors.

I used my magic gravity defying penny so we could get an even better idea of the scale of some of these lichens. For those of you not familiar with the size of a penny, they are 3/4 of an inch (19.05mm) in diameter. The powdery sunburst lichen just above it is almost the same size. The lichens below, right and left of the penny are star rosette lichens like the one we just saw in the previous photo. That penny could use a good cleaning.

This is the powdery sunburst lichen (Xanthomendoza ulophyllodes) we saw above the dirty penny in the previous photo. This foliose lichen is easy to see even when it’s small, because of its bright orange yellow color. This lichen really likes moisture and is often found growing near channels that carry water on stone or bark. A foliose lichen has a lobed, leafy look.

British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) like to grow on damp wood like rotted stumps and logs, but I’ve found them on buildings, fence posts, and built up forest litter on boulders. At this time of year I don’t pass too many mossy old tree stumps without having a glance for British soldiers. Their bright red apothecia make them easy to see, even if you’re colorblind.

Pink earth lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces) closely resembles bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum.) One of the differences between the two is the length of the stalks that the plump pink apothecia sit on. They are longer on bubblegum lichens than they are on pink earth lichens. Both are very beautiful things that are rarely seen in this area. The whitish thallus, or body of the lichen, grows on soil; usually on dry acidic soil near blueberry and sweet fern plants. It can sometimes have a bluish cast as well.

I find pebbled pixie cup lichens ((Cladonia pyxidata)) growing on soil or rotting stumps and logs, and occasionally on stone. Pixie cups look like tiny golf tees or trumpets. They are squamulose lichens, and the golf tee shapes arise from leafy growths called squamules. A squamule is a lobe of the body of the lichen (thallus,) and  squamulose lichens have small, leafy lobes.

Though pixie cup lichens are squamulose they have fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are called podetia. “Podetia” describes a stalk like growth which bears the apothecia, or fruiting bodies. This example shows some almost microscopic dots around the rim, which are its apothecia. Finally, frucitose means a lichen has a bushy, vertical growth. Since this example has squamules even growing inside the tiny cups it must be a pebbled pixie cup lichen.

A single raindrop was caught in the cup of this pixie cup and it illustrates how the cups are meant to do exactly this; they are splash cups and when a raindrop lands in them the water splashes the spores out and away from the lichen to hopefully colonize new ground. Pixie Cups and other Cladonia species like reindeer lichen contain didymic acid, and they were once used by herbalists to treat tuberculosis.

Dog lichens will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was. The example pictured is I believe, a membranous dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea.) Dog lichens are associated with mossy areas because the mosses provide the moisture that they need. It is known as membranous lichen because it is thin and pliable. It is also a foliose lichen because it is lobed, or leaf like. The upper part of the body (Thallus) is undulating or veined. This lichen is large and easy to see. It is also probably quite old.

One theory behind the name “dog lichen” says that the name refers to the large, lobed body of the lichen looking like dog ears. It sounds plausible, but so do the other three theories I’ve heard. One says the fang like rhizines look like dog’s teeth, another says the entire lichen body looks like a dog, and yet another says that the apothecia, or fruiting bodies, look like dog ears. I’ve never seen this one produce fruiting bodies so I can’t verify that last one and it doesn’t really look like a dog to me, so I can’t verify the second one either.

What sounds most plausible to me about the origin of the name “dog lichen” are the white “roots” on the white underside of the lichen body. They are fang like and called rhizines. On some lichens they can be quite bushy, but on Peltigera membranacea they are narrow and thin. They are one of the identifying characteristics of this lichen along with its thin, flexible, undulating thallus.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) are uncommonly beautiful. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone. It’s a very artistic lichen and I like the patterns that it makes. I see it on gravestones quite often.

It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that, at high magnification, the body of the common goldspeck lichen looks like it’s made up of tiny golden specks. The book Lichens of North America describe the body of this lichen as “little cushions of flattened granules.” This lichen is sometimes sterile, with no fruiting bodies present, as this one appeared to be.

Scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body and orange fruiting bodies. This one was growing on stone in full sun. There was a time when I knew of only one example but now I see them everywhere, even on mountain tops. This example was about as big as a penny.

If you spend time walking along old stone walls eventually you’ll see a stone with a splash of bright orange on it and it will probably be the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima,) so called because it is a lime lover and grows on concrete sidewalks, which have lime in them. When you see it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it too. This stone is almost completely covered by it.

A closer look at this example of the sidewalk firedot lichen showed it was made up of mostly irregularly shaped fruiting bodies, so it was making plenty of spores. It was raining at the time so it was also very wet. Lichens are at their best when they are wet because that’s when they’ll show their true colors and size, so that’s when serious lichen hunters look for them. A misty or drizzly day is perfect.

One thing you learn quickly when you decide to study lichens is that your pockets will be as full of unknowns as they are knowns, and this lichen shows why. You’ll see why in the next photo, so try to remember how it looks here.

Not only do lichens change color but shape as well. It’s hard to believe that this is the same kind of lichen that we saw in the previous photo but it is, and it is the apothecia in full “bloom” that makes it look so different from photo to photo. This is why it has taken me as long as three years to identify some lichens. I’m not completely comfortable with my identification of this one but I think it might be the brown eyed rim lichen (Lecanora epibyron.) Brown eyed rim lichen is described as a “white to very pale brown crustose lichen with many red-brown apothecia with a white margin.” It seems to fit, but if you know this lichen and know that my identification is wrong I hope you’ll let me know.  I found it growing on ash tree bark.

As its name implies maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora) grows on the bark of maple trees, but I’ve also seen it on beech, oak, and basswood. One of the easiest ways to identify this lichen is to look for the white fringe around its perimeter. This is one of those lichens that I never saw until I stumbled across it one day, and now I see it everywhere. This beautiful example was about 3/4 of an inch in diameter, or about the size of a penny.

Some lichens are very easy to identify because there aren’t many others that look like them, and the toadskin lichen is one of those. Toadskin lichens are another one that shows color changes. When wet it is pliable and pea green and when dry it becomes crisp and ash gray. This example hadn’t completely dried out but it was well on its way. Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them an umbilicate lichen. This toadskin is very special, because it is the only one I’ve ever seen that wasn’t on a hill or mountain top. It grows on a boulder at the very water’s edge of a lake and now I know, if the day comes when I can no longer climb, I’ll still be able to see these beautiful little things.

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing a few of the lichens I know and I hope you’ll look for them in your area. Just look closely anywhere you happen to be; they’ll be there too.

Oh what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind when it has once seized on it like a lichen on a rock. ~Mary Shelly

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1. Trail Start

July ended much as we’d expect it to; sunny and hot. But after a month or more of hot rainless days everyone, especially farmers, is hoping for rain. The weather people said that rain showers would pass through last Friday night and we did get a little, so on Saturday morning I decided to climb Mount Caesar in Swanzey. I was hoping that a few showers might help some mushrooms grow because it was about this time last year that I saw a beautiful violet coral fungus, easily one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in nature. The above photo shows the start of the trail between two dry stone walls. If I was a farmer in the 1700s and I wanted my cows to follow a certain path I would have built walls on either side of it too.

2. Hole Under Wall

There was a hole dug recently under one of the walls. It looked plenty big enough for a family of bobcats but I didn’t see any signs of activity.

3. Meadow

There is a meadow here, made when the town decided to clear cut a large swath of forest. I find many wildflowers here that I don’t see anywhere else, like slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) and Canada St. Johnswort (Hypericum canadense.) Two different native lobelias grow here as well, pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata) and Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.) This spot has seen full sun and 90 degree F weather for quite a while now, and only the toughest can take it.

4. Lobelia Blossom

I keep trying to explain in words how small some of the flowers are that appear in these posts but a picture is worth a thousand words, so I took a photo of a lobelia flower sitting on a penny. It is from an Indian tobacco plant, which is one that appeared in my last post. A penny is about 3/4 of an inch in diameter.

5. Trail

As much as I’d like to I can’t stay in the meadow all day, so up we go.

6. Fairy Stools

There will be stops along the way so I can catch my breath and admire things like these fairy stool mushrooms (Coltricia cinnamomea.) They are very tough, leathery little things that seem to have shrugged off the lack of rain. I like their concentric rings. Their cap is usually very flat and with their central stems they remind me of tiny café tables.

7. Sapsucker Holes

Bark full of tell-tale holes from a yellow bellied sapsucker were about all that was left of a birch log. Many other birds, insects and animals sip the sap that runs from these holes and they are an important part of the workings of the forest.

8. Unknown Fungi

A cluster of young fungi grew on the birch log. I’m not sure of their name but I was surprised to see them. It’s been dry enough to make mushrooms a rare thing this year.

9. Starflower Seed Pod

The starflowers (Trientalis borealis) have gone to seed and this tiny seed pod was just opening, as you can see by the hole at the top. These chalky white seedpods are so small that this one would have fit inside the lobelia flower that we saw earlier with room to spare. I like how they look like miniature soccer balls.

10. Pixie Cups and British Soldier

Other small things along the way were these red British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) growing with some trumpet like pixie cups (Cladonia pyxidata). Lichens like water so I was surprised to see that these examples looked so fresh.

11. Trail Top

The trail at the bottom of Mount Caesar starts out as bedrock and that’s also how it ends. This mountain is really just a huge mound of solid granite with a thin coating of soil covering it.

12. View

The views were what I expected them to be; hazy on such a hot, humid day.  I had hoped there would be a cooling breeze up here but hardly a leaf stirred. Not only that but the lack of shade made it feel even hotter than it did down below.

13. Earthworks

Off in the distance on another hill I saw a large sand pit that I’ve never noticed before. Swanzey is built on sand and gravel and digging it up to use elsewhere is thriving business. Surely an operation as big as this one has been there for a while, but I’ve never seen it.

14. Monadnock

Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey could be seen through the haze. At 3, 165 feet its summit rises another 2,203 feet higher than where I was standing. It was much too hot to even think about climbing that one but I’d bet that there was a cool breeze up there.

15. Rocking Stone

Everyone in this area has heard of Tippin rock, the forty ton glacial erratic that sits on the top of Hewe’s hill one mile to the south, but I doubt many have heard of the rocking stone that sits on the top of Mount Caesar. I’ve seen this big stone many times but hadn’t really paid much attention to it until a friend sent me a photo from 1895 with a caption calling it the rocking stone. It’s probably about a quarter the size of tippin rock but I didn’t try to rock it.

16. Mount Caesar

I was surprised to see a building along with the stone in the old photo with a caption calling it “the pavilion.” I wonder how many teams of horses or oxen were needed to get all that lumber to the summit, and I also wonder why a building was even needed up there. It looked old in 1895 so it must have been there a while. There was no air conditioning then so maybe people climbed to the summit hoping to find relief from the heat by sitting in the shade of the pavilion.  Maybe they had picnics up there; picnics were popular then. Or maybe they were tired of getting caught in thunderstorms and built a shelter, I don’t really know. I don’t even know who “they” would have been. I wandered all over the summit, using the shape of the stone as a guide, but I couldn’t find a trace of the building. Not a board, not a nail, nothing. Time has erased it completely.

17. Blueberries

I’m sure that people must have climbed these hills to pick the blueberries in 1895 as they still do, but I hope they had better luck than I did. It’s so dry up here this year they’re turning into hard, withered stones.

18. Toadskin

I couldn’t leave without a visit with my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) Their gray color told how dry and potato chip crisp they were but lichens are nothing if not patient, and they will sit here for eons if need be, waiting for rain. Some show an entire solar system on their faces and how fitting that is.; lichens have been flown into space and have survived more than two weeks in the void, leading many to believe that they are immortal.

19. Toadskin close

Toadskin lichens have warts called pustules and on the back of the lichen there is a corresponding pit for every pustule. The black dots are its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) which are tiny black discs with a sunken center that makes them look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) 0f the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. If I could magnify them enough we’d see clear to brown muriform spores in each apothecia. Muriform means they are “wall like” with internal cross walls that make them look as if they were made of brick and mortar. What strange and fascinating things nature will show us if we just take the time to look a little closer.

20. Fan Clubmoss

 I never did find the beautiful violet coral fungus that I hoped to see but I saw many other things that made this climb worthwhile, including this fan club moss (Diphasiastrum digitatum) that grew into double hearts.

May your dreams be larger than mountains, and may you have the courage to scale their summits. ~Harley King

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