November 20, 2003 3:01 AM   Subscribe

Lichens of North America 'This website grew out of the activities of Sylvia and Stephen Sharnoff, who did the photographic fieldwork for the book Lichens of North America, by Irwin M.Brodo and the Sharnoffs, published in November, 2001 by Yale University Press ... ' - the human uses of lichens, a lichen sampler, lichen portraits ('This lichen is used medicinally in India as a poultice to induce copious urination, as a linament and an incense for headaches, and also as a powder to help wounds heal.') ... more lichen links.
Related interest :- The Hidden Forest, photos of lichens, fungi, mosses and slime moulds of the New Zealand bush.
posted by plep (21 comments total)
Hooray for the botany link! But lichens aren't just for damp, forest environments: In arid environments, lichens form cryptogamic crusts, pushing their tiny roots into the top-most layer of the soil and preventing soil erosion from otherwise susceptible environments. Unfortunately, overgrazing has a major effect on these important ecosystem components.

We've got these great arid lichens in South Australia - can't remember the name at the moment - they turn brown during dry periods, and you can pick them up in your hand and pour water on them, and they unfurl, expand and turn bright green in a matter of seconds.
posted by Jimbob at 3:31 AM on November 20, 2003

"But lichens aren't just for damp, forest environments" - Indeed not. Now, they're a breakfast cereal : brown when they come out of the box, but pour milk on them and Lo! - they unfurl and turn green.
posted by troutfishing at 3:56 AM on November 20, 2003

However, the manufacturer disclaimer on the side of the box warns that "Lichen-O Puffs" may occasionally result in frequent and copious urination.
posted by troutfishing at 3:59 AM on November 20, 2003

Excellent, thanks plep. I see plenty of lichens when I go hiking, and I always wanted to find out more about them. I had no idea they were composite organisms.
posted by carter at 5:50 AM on November 20, 2003

As soon as I saw the first few words - "Lichens of North America", I knew this post was a "Plep" without even scrolling down to see : The "Plep" is a sort of minor national treasure hosted right here on Metafilter.

I was moved by this post to revisit a curious phenomenon - the " 'Reverse-fountain', 'fruiting body' phenomenon " "When individual amoebae of the cellular slime mould are starving, they aggregate to form a multicellular migrating slug...."
posted by troutfishing at 6:17 AM on November 20, 2003

Some more nice, vibrant macro pix here; also, the use of lichens to measure air pollution could virtually eliminate the use of mechanical monitoring.
posted by taz at 6:25 AM on November 20, 2003

Very cool, plep. Lichens have all the beauty of abstract, textured art...
posted by Shane at 6:46 AM on November 20, 2003

This is beautiful, and totally what I'm shooting for with my field identifications and photos of the ascidians of the west coast of north america (go up one level for bryozoans and some beautiful ascidian settlers).
posted by jearbear at 7:54 AM on November 20, 2003

Somebody's gotta say it...

McDonald's: I'm lichen it!
(Now I've figured out what they put in those so-called burgers...)
posted by wendell at 9:11 AM on November 20, 2003

What a great site! I knew it was a "plep" too from the first few words, troutfishing.
posted by lobakgo at 9:23 AM on November 20, 2003

Lichen are fascinating in part because they're several cooperating lifeforms living together. That, and they're freaking everywhere.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:47 AM on November 20, 2003

Everywhere indeed :-

'The extreme conditions make Antarctica a habitat in which only the hardiest can survive. Very few species have been recorded on the 2% of the continent that is ice-free. They include about 150 lichens, 30 mosses, some fungi and one liverwort ... Of all the plants, lichens are best adapted to survive in the harsh polar climate. Some lichens have even been found only about 400 km from the South Pole. Lichens have proliferated in Antarctica mainly because there is little competition from mosses or flowering plants and because of their high tolerance of drought and cold. The peculiarity of lichens is that they are not one homogeneous organism but a symbiosis of two different partners, a fungus and an alga. The fungus part supplies the plant with water and nutritious salt, meanwhile the alga part organic substance, like carbohydrate produce. With this ideal "job-sharing", lichens can survive the hardest conditions. Far from the border of highly developed plants, lichens are the pioneers of the vegetation.'
posted by plep at 11:09 AM on November 20, 2003

BTW, good set of photographs, jearbear.
posted by plep at 11:15 AM on November 20, 2003

Has anyone else here actually purchased the book?

it's amazing, and Really, Really big.
I would call it a coffee table book,
except my coffee table is way too small for it.
I gave it it's own shelf.
It is now the largest book that I have ever owned.

btw, so far no chicks are impressed.
Perhaps I need a more glamorous hobby?
posted by milovoo at 12:02 PM on November 20, 2003

I'm not a chick, milovoo, but I'm impressed. Can I borrow it?

It strikes me that the relationship between algae and fungus in lichen is perhaps similar to the relationship between mitochondria and cells in animals.

I once spent the better part of three hours peering at lichen above the treeline of a mountain on the south BC/Alberta border. They were fascinating. And a little scary: magnified, some of them look like bizarre alien creatures with no shape or component shared with life on earth. Surreal, really.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:42 PM on November 20, 2003

five fresh fish - your lichen moment was spent far more wisely then time squandered, for example, watching TV. You learned something from the lichen, I'd bet.
posted by troutfishing at 7:07 PM on November 20, 2003

Funny, I was just on a mountain hike with a woman (not otherwise interested in botanical arcana) who'd stumbled on the lichen book, bought it, & read it. She said it changed her way of looking at the environment—one of those things that's there in profuse & significant variety, but most of us don't notice it. Including me... I just can't get into lichen.
posted by Zurishaddai at 9:13 PM on November 20, 2003

Yah, pretty much, trout. It was a fascinating bit of world that I hadn't previously known about. Turned out there were dozens of different forms of lichen with interesting hints of specialization as I peered at different micro-environments. I also picked apart some of the lichen, and discovered a variety of structures. There were also mosses, with their own incredible adaptations, and some fungi as well. Tons of life where the conditions are really harsh; makes for a whole different world than below the treeline.

It was a full-day backpacking trip to get to the top of the "Promised Land" pass. It was late August, and there was still snow up there. At night my wife and I watched the Perseids meteor shower -- it was mindblowing: when you're at the top of a mountain and there are no city lights for hundreds of kilometers, you see a lot more stars.

Promised Land is a caving wonderland, too. We explored a couple of caves as best we could with no equipment; just a lamp and a flashlight. One of the caves had a cavern that I'm told is the size of an aircraft hanger: certainly we couldn't see the top or sides or ends of it. The other cave had all sorts of wild rock formations and, very much to my surprise, rat turds hundreds and hundreds of meters in. I still can't figure out what the hell they'd have been doing way the hell back there. No food, no light, nothing to build a nest.

So, yah, way the hell better than watching television. Learned a ton of stuff about lichen, caves, light pollution, and my own physical limits. It was time well spent, fersure.

It was on that trip I decided that life is fragile, tenacious, opportunistic, and probably inevitable.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:48 AM on November 21, 2003

FFF - I spent some time envisioning that. I'm sure it was better to be there, but it sounded nice. It made me think, somehow, of Loren Eiseley's writing.

Almost twenty comments - not bad. I guess peope don't argue about lichen.
posted by troutfishing at 7:35 PM on November 21, 2003

Portoraits of Mushrooms from Japan
posted by homunculus at 7:44 PM on November 22, 2003

I'm not a chick, milovoo, but I'm impressed. Can I borrow it?
I would say yes, except the shipping would far outweigh the cost of the book from your local botanical bookstore.
(I even haggled the guy down a bit on the price, I think it's usually $69 and I got it for $50)

Oh, wait, that just made me think of something we could argue about - I got my book in Williamburg Brooklyn.
Who would have thought that the same village that brought you trucker hats as fashion would have a cool science bookstore.

Someone should make a site called "single scientists", or "date-a-nerd", as it seems like there must
be a lot of hotties who just don't get out of the lab much and I would sure rather make small talk
about lichens than movies or TV.
posted by milovoo at 10:32 AM on November 23, 2003

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