Lichens have two components—a fungus and an alga or cyanobacteria living in association with one another to give the appearance of a single plant. Lichens grow on soil, on trunks and branches of trees and shrubs, and on rocks….they are rarely found in water. Lichens come in numerous growth forms, so it can be confusing to tell what you’re looking at. Some are vaguely leafy looking (foliose lichens) while others are just kind of low and crusty (crustose lichens) and still others look like hair or fine filaments (fruticose lichens). The fungus part of the lichen can not make its own food, which is why in lives symbiotically with algae or cyanobacteria-the algae or bacteria provide the lichens with photosynthetic energy. Lichens reproduce either through the production of spores like most other fungi, or can sometimes reproduce when fragments of the tough, bark-like structure break off and fall on an appropriate surface. Lichens are really good at the long game. They grow extremely slowly, can live hundreds of years, and can survive droughts and complete desiccation for long periods of time thanks to their fungal housing.
So, next time you take a walk in the woods, look for epiphytes and see if you can identify what type they are!
-Melissa Brogle, Volunteer Coordinator