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Lichen or Lichen?
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sang, - 'You like tomayto I like tomarta, you like potayto and I like potarta, tomayto, tomarta, potayto, patarta , oh lets call the whole thing off...........' I sang, - 'You say Heushera , I say Heuchera, you say Weigelia ,I say Weigela, I say Clemaytis you say CLEMatis, you call it lichen and I call it liken, let's call the whole thing off. ' We'll leave the Heuchera , Weigela, and Clematis thing for another day and just deal with the lichen or liken issue. I looked it up in the dictionary to check out the phonetic pronunciation and it says, '' Pronounced lie-ken ( it was written out in those funny phonetic symbols but they don't come out well in this font and who actually understands them?) but sometimes said lichen as in kitchen.'' So there you have it, you can please yourself. Hooray. Well not quite. Lichen comes from Greek and I am not a Greek scholar but I think they would say a hard ch ( Kick) rather than a soft ch ( Chin).
Whatever you call them they are quite a piece of something. I say something because they are not plants nor are they animals but a combination of two separate organisms, a fungus and either an algae or sometimes a cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria are blue-green bacteria which can make energy from sunlight just like the algae.The fungus and its symbiotic partner get by mostly by the algae or bacteria providing energy garnered from the sun and the fungus helps by retaining water and providing a bigger area for capturing nutrients. The relationship is complex and that explanation is a big over simplification.
This symbiosis allows them to occupy environmental niches that they could not survive in as separate entities. The algae can live without the fungus but the fungus cannot live without the algae. It has always puzzled me how such a mutually reliant existence allows them to reproduce when you have two different organisms involved but operating as one. It turns out that they can spread by vegetative means which means bits come off and establish themselves in a new location but they also produce a type of spore which contains a bit of both the algae and the fungus and this is dispersed by the wind. Where there is a need evolution invariably finds a way.
Lichens can withstand considerable desiccation which allows them to colonise a wide range of often inhospitable environments. The pictures below show them on wood, asbestos, and painted metal which are not particularly inhospitable but certainly varied and providing very little nutrition. .
This is not meant to be a scientific look at lichens because there are many and varied variations on the lichen theme and their life history can be complex. I am more concerned by the beauty of their shape and colour. Take a look at the British Lichen Society website for comprehensive information.
Lichens of many shapes and textures were clinging to an apple tree I pruned recently
The pictures below are all taken within a yard or two of each other and I would not be surprised if most times when you are outdoors that along with that rat we are always only a few feet away from you are not that far from a lichen. They are sensitive to air pollution so town dwellers might have to look a bit harder.
I live in Potter's Lane and this sign is typical of many where the sign cleaner never gets - thankfully.
It would be perfect if the name of this lichen began with S........
.....and this one began with P.
The spattered, tiny, coral-like fragments on this P were finely detailed and sublime.
The spattered, tiny, coral-like fragments on this P were finely detailed and sublime.
I borrowed this T from the sign opposite because the lichens were better than on the T above.
Lichen on stone wall 1
Lichen on stone wall 2
Lichen on stone wall 3
Lichens on wooden bench 1
Lichens on wooden bench 2
Lichen on asbestos shed. 1 (Can you spot the face of Jesus?)
Lichen on asbestos shed 2 or is it a picture of the cosmos or is it just a boring picture? You decide.
I sometime get asked to look at 'diseased' shrubs to advise on what can be done only to find that the plant in question is just covered in lichens. It is usually on old shrubs where the lichen has had time to get well established. The lichen does not penetrate the plants and does no harm. This also applies to ivy on trees. The ivy takes nothing from the tree but does make branches heavier and more likely to break off in high winds or when laden with snow.
Lichen on this small, round leaved deciduous Lilac, Syringa meyeri var spontanea 'Palibin' gives it a frosted look.
Here's a curious little fellow. It is an earth star fungus and more specifically the Arched Earth Star and more scientifically Geastrum fornicatum. Ge = earth as in geology, astrum = star as in Per ardua ad astra and fornicatum as in, well, what are you expecting? It means arched or vaulted. Wikipedia tells us about fornication - 'It is a common belief that the origin of the word derives from Latin. The word fornix means "an archway" or "vault" and it became a common euphemism for a brothel as prostitutes could be solicited in the vaults beneath Rome. More directly, fornicatio means "done in the archway," perhaps a reference to prostitution.' Well, well, well, the things you learn from a lowly fungus.
I recently asked a friend,Phill Clayton, if he fancied contributing to this blog. He did and here it is below.
Phill is an accomplished wildlife photographer and very knowledgeable naturalist. He has logged several species of wildlife never before recorded in South Warwickshire and built up a comprehensive picture library of the wildlife of the local area through birds, flowers and insects. He is a keen conservationist and one of the main movers in the Stour Valley Wildlife Action Group . Much of his work can be seen on their website. (The group also has a Facebook page.) It is a valuable resource for those interested in the well being of their countryside.
Take it away Phill.
''After reading the various posts I thought, having an interest in the natural world, I would like to add a slant in that direction!
A slant perhaps at a tangent that delves more into folklore and myth. Why? Because we have learned much about the natural world over the centuries culminating in some fantastic video footage of species' life cycles that are even stranger than fiction. However, this interest lies in how our ancestors tried to make sense of the living things around them, within the constraints of their times! Probably the most familiar of our wildlife, are the birds we see around our gardens and local countryside!
We can attempt to see these through the eyes of the ancients who wrote about them with, in some cases, great detail.
When Christ was crucified it is said that the Crossbill drew out the nails to release Christ and this is how it has a deformed bill, The red markings are the blood of Christ from their efforts to free him. Swallows it was believed, flew off with the nails so they couldn't be used again! It was the Sparrow that followed them and brought them back and for punishment had their legs fixed together invisibly so now they can only hop and never run again. Thus, it was a sin to kill the swallow and some believed that if a farmer does this his cows will yield blood instead of milk!
(Religion was of course one of the great constraints of these times!)
Nisus, the King of Megara, had a daughter called Scylla who for the love of Minos betrayed her father and country. On realising her betrayal she threw herself into the sea in despair and was changed into a lark. This doomed her to be pursued forever by her father who changed into a hawk……….The species name for the sparrow hawk is Accipiter nisus!
The Cuckoo or Gowk, has been the subject of much folklore. Where did it go in winter, where did it nest, why did it change its song, why did it eat other birds eggs? Why did grasshoppers hatch from its spittle?
The attempts to answer all of these conundrums were quite varied, some believed that cuckoos turned into hawks in the winter (The barred breast of the cuckoo is quite Sparrow hawk-like!). Others believed it hibernated in this country, either in the mud at the bottom of ponds, or would lose its feathers and hide in the hollows in trees and looked like an owl. (Tawny owls nest early in hollows so finding young owlets could explain this!) It was also thought that the cuckoo arrived here on the backs of Kites as their flight was poor! (This probably came about as a coincidence in arrival time!) Some believed a Cuckoo could not sing until it had eaten the egg of a small bird. (Cuckoos do take birds eggs, this is to make room in the nest of the host parents for its own egg, so a thread of truth!) The tiny soft bodied Frog-hopper larvae that secrete the protective foamy substance we know as Cuckoo spit are most evident in the months the Cuckoo sings so again it seems the two must be associated by pure coincidence!
But why did these stories come about?
Explaining why a bird like the cuckoo, (which would have been very common back then!) made itself so obviously present within the few months of summer and then apparently disappearing completely, must have been quite important. For a better or wise person having to explain to a lesser being that you didn't know the answer would never do! So explanations were created.
I guess by now us commoners should be used to the tales we have been spun by our peers ever since!''
Face of Jesus.
We've all seen it haven't we? Pull a slice of toast out of the toaster and there it is the face of Jesus, spill milk on the table and there it is again; just about to take a sip and there it is, the face of Jesus, in the froth of our pint of Guinness. Well, I was knocking apart an old pallet the other day and there it was, the face of Jesus, but what I hadn't realised was that he smoked.
This is one of the few variegated plants I get excited by. I grow it alongside the path to the house to cheer me as I go by. It is reliable and bright and clean throughout the year but seems particularly so in the winter when it shines out against dark wet earth and bedraggled plant debris. It even looks good through the snow. Yucca filamentosa 'Golden Sword', try it.
Here are two rather poor pictures of a plant I have overlooked for much of my gardening life. Leucojum vernum This plant has been flowering from mid to late January through February in the UK Midlands. Snowdrops fit in well with winter, they look cold with their pure white flowers and blue tinted foliage but this plant has the luxuriance of a summer flowering bulb.The foliage is dense and a rich dark green and the white flowers, held well above the leaves, are perked up with bright yellow anthers and petals with yellowy green tips. It is called the Spring Snowflake but it is too early and far too warm to be called either Spring or Snowflake Don't miss out on it like I have all these years, track one down in readiness for next winter.
Flowering it's head off in early February Cornus mas must rate only just behind Hammamelis, Witch Hazel, but ahead of most everything else for winter colour. It is a deciduous, hardy, large shrub/small tree that tolerates a wide range of conditions and if you are desperate enough you can make jelly from its berries though it needs a warm spot to fruit regularly.
It is that time of the year when everyone writes about Hellebores. Here's my contribution. This is a fabulously dark selection from Ashwoods Nurseries Not only are the flowers so very dark but the new foliage is a rich chocolate purple. It is exquisite.
Another lesson is that when you cut back your old hellebore leaves in winter try not to leave stubby bits of stem showing;it spoils the effect.( I am in a quandary, should that be effect or affect? Help me out English scholars.)
Bits and Bobs
Young engineers overheard at Job Centre.... 'Drilling is boring'....... 'I went for a job as a lathe operator. I got turned down.'
In the UK there are several genera of Woodlice, those small ancient looking insects that creep around in damp and shady places. One of the genera is Armadillidium which is a great name to pronounce, but, better still, they are classified in the section Armadillidiidae - is that an insect or a traditional Irish fiddle tune?
Anyone else we should include?
Sandy Shaw could start a seaside scene.