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Posts Tagged ‘Pebbled Pixie Cup Lichen’

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

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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1. Hoar Frost

I thought the colors of the wet leaves and tiny feathers of hoar frost in this puddle were very beautiful. Hoar frost forms when twigs or other things coated in warm water vapor meet cold air. I’ve been to this place before and the water here never seems to freeze. It seeps in a small rivulet all year round and sometimes even feels warm to the touch. That could be an illusion though, because when the air temperature hovers just above zero many things feel warm.

 2. Goldenrod Seed Head

Goldenrod lived up to its name when a ray of golden sunshine fell on it. There seem to be plenty of seeds left for the birds but berries and other fruits are going fast. I’ve read that in cold like we’re having now they look for what has the highest fat content first.

3. Burning Bush Berries

There are still berries on the invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) near the river. Birds seem to wait until spring to eat these. Even though they don’t seem to be a first choice birds sure do spread the seeds around and there are large swaths along the riverbank where almost nothing but burning bush grows. They have shaded out and overcome almost all the native plants in that area.

4. Blue Ashuelot

The Ashuelot River taught me that if I took a photo of it with the sun over my shoulder it would be very blue and on this day it didn’t disappoint. I was standing on a bridge when I took this and the river on the other side of the bridge, just a few feet away but with the sun in front of me, was gunmetal gray and looked completely different.

5. Mallard Pecking a Stone

Even though she had to have seen me standing on the bridge a female mallard came floating downstream, quacking loudly. I watched her dive several times and then she swam over to a rock and started pecking it, like a woodpecker pecks at a tree. It was a loud enough tapping to echo through the woods and I couldn’t figure out what the attraction was until I saw that she held an acorn in her beak and was trying to crack it open on the rock. I’ve read that ducks eat acorns but I’ve never heard of them cracking them open on rocks. Maybe this one was smarter than your average duck.

 6. Liverwort on Maple

When it gets cold dark, almost black spots appear on the bark of trees. They are really there all the time but are kind of a reddish color and not quite so noticable at other times of year when there are so many other things to see. Those who think they’ve never seen a liverwort might want to stop and take a closer look at these dark blotches because they are Frullania liverworts, one of the few liverworts that can thrive in dry places.

7. Liverwort on Maple

There are about 800 species of Frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. Tree cutters on the other hand might find that they itch a bit after handling logs covered with this liverwort because it can cause something called woodcutter’s eczema. This eczema, called phytodermatitis (basically an itchy rash,) haa been seen in loggers and others who regularly handle logs or cord wood with this liverwort on them. It doesn’t sound like anything serious and usually disappears in two or three weeks once the person stops handling logs, but how do you get a logger to stop handling logs? It sound like they’d better wear gloves and long sleeves.

8. Vole Tracks-2

Vole tracks in my yard made it look as if the snow had been zipped up. Look closely and you’ll see that this pattern echos that found in the frullania liverworts in the previous photo.Nature seems to use many of the same patterns over and over, but in very different ways.

9. Lichen Garden

A pine tree fell and as I looked it’s branches over I was astounded by the number of different mosses and lichens that had been growing way up in the topmost part of it. In the book Gathering Moss author Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about a field expiriment involving chipmunks and sticky paper. When the chipmunks ran across the sticky paper whatever was on their  paws stuck to the paper, and she found that many mosses travel by way of chipmunk paws. It’s one explanation for how mosses can grow so high up in trees, and I wonder if it applies to lichens as well. Of course both lichens and mosses release spores that are borne on the wind, so that’s another way that they must use to find their way into the tree tops.

10. Pixie Cup Lichen

Pixie cup lichens are squamulose lichens with fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. Squamulose means they have scale like lobes that often overlap like shingles and the green leafy bits in the above photo are the squamules. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are called podetia. Podetia means a stalk like growth which bears the apothecia, or fruiting bodies. Finally, frucitose means a lichen with bushy, vertical growth. Since this example has squamules even growing inside the tiny cups it must be a pebbled pixie cup lichen (Cladonia pyxidata). Pixie cups grow on the ground and rotting logs and stumps. Some also grow in stone. No, I don’t carry all of this information around in my head; it all comes from the book Lichens of North America.

11. Oak Tree

I think most of you who read this blog know that I’m colorblind. That’s why I didn’t trust my own eyes when I drove by this oak tree and saw that it was full of pink leaves.  Pink leaves? It can’t be, they have to be brown, I thought.

12. Oak Leaves

Imagine my surprise when my color finding software looked at these leaves and saw salmon pink in both dark and light shades. Maybe I can trust my own eyes after all. Of corse, the color finding software doesn’t say that every leaf is pink-it just sees pink here and there. It also sees orange, several shades of brown including tan and chocolate, green, gray and Navaho white. What if I were to take up a paintbrush and paint an oak tree with all of those colors in its leaves-would you all think I had been out in the sun too long?

13. Shadows on Snow

The oak tree with pink leaves reminds me of the time my art teacher in high school, a wonderful woman named Norma Safford, told me that snow shadows should be blue. I argued that they should be gray because that’s what I saw. It was photography that finally showed me that Mrs. Safford had been right all along. Somehow my vision has been corrected in that area at least, because I now see blue snow shadows in person as well as in photos.

 14. Ashuelot Falls

The setting sun tried to turn the Ashuelot River falls to molten gold one afternoon but old man winter wasn’t having any of that and he won the battle.

15. River Ice

It always pays to slow down and take a closer look at nature, even when all you see is ice. I couldn’t even begin to count how many times I’ve thought Huh, would you look at that.

Outdoors is where the great mystery lies, so going into nature should be a searching and humbling experience, like going to church. ~Skip Whitcomb

Thanks for stopping in.

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