Welcome to Day 13 of 31 Days of Kissing the Wounds, a month of posts about the beauty, longing, and soul inherent in our damaged selves; in the world’s brokenness; in the imperfection, incompleteness, and transience of all that we love; in our recognition of each other as the walking wounded; and in the jagged, messy, splintery, deformed, sullied, unhealed parts of me, you, the natural world, our communities, the culture. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others.
“The black rock was sharp-edged, hot, and hard as corundum; it seemed not merely alien but impervious to life. Yet on the southern face of almost every rock the lichens grew, yellow, rusty-brown, yellow-green, like patches of dirty paint daubed on the stone.” ― Edward Abbey, The Brave Cowboy: An Old Tale in a New Time
The resilient lichens grew, in places that seemed impervious to life, like patches of dirty paint on stone.
A lichen, which isn’t a plant, is at least two organisms combined, and probably at least three: a fungus (or two kinds of fungi), and either algae or cyanobacteria or both; and there may be other organisms in there as well:
“A lichen is a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria (or both) living among filaments of a fungus [or two kinds of fungi, as is now thought] in a symbiotic relationship. The combined life form has properties that are very different from the properties of its component organisms. Lichens come in many colors, sizes, and forms. The properties are sometimes plant-like, but lichens are not plants. … Common names for lichens may contain the word “moss” (e.g., “Reindeer moss”, “Iceland moss”), and lichens may superficially look like and grow with mosses, but lichens are not related to mosses or any plant. Lichens do not have roots that absorb water and nutrients as plants do but like plants they produce their own food by photosynthesis using sunlight energy, from carbon dioxide, water and minerals in their environment. When they grow on plants, they do not live as parasites and only use the plants as a substrate.”
Lichen “are relatively self-contained miniature ecosystems in and of themselves, possibly with more microorganisms living with the fungi, algae, and/or cyanobacteria, performing other functions as partners in a system that evolves as an even more complex composite organism.”
“Lichens are said to be ‘species,’ but what is meant by ‘species’ is different from what is meant for plants, animals, and fungi, for which ‘species’ implies a common ancestral lineage. Lichens are really combinations of species from two or three different biological kingdoms, so there is no common lineage.”
(All quotes on lichen are from Wikipedia)
Kinds of lichen (described by shape of ‘vegetative body parts’):
Fruticose: looks like like a multiply branched tuft or leafless mini-shrub
Foliose: has leaf-like structures
Crustose: grows like an orange crust coating a rock
Crustose placodioid: grows like a crust in a pattern that radiates outward from the center
Leprose: grows like powder dusted on a rock
Gelatinous: without internal structure for its parts
Filamentous: stringy or like matted hair
Byssoid: wispy, like teased wool
“Special pigments, such as yellow usnic acid, give lichens a variety of colors, including reds, oranges, yellows, and browns, especially in exposed, dry habitats. In the absence of special pigments, lichens are usually bright green to olive gray when wet, gray or grayish-green to brown when dry.”
“Lichens can survive unprotected in space. …. [T]wo species of lichen—Rhizocarpon geographicum and Xanthoria elegans—were sealed in a capsule and launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket 31 May 2005. Once in orbit, the capsules were opened and the lichens were directly exposed to the vacuum of space with its widely fluctuating temperatures and cosmic radiation. After 15 days, the lichens were brought back to earth and were found to be in full health with no discernible damage from their time in orbit.”
“It is estimated that 6% of Earth’s land surface is covered by lichen.”
“Many lichens are very sensitive to environmental disturbances and can be used in cheaply assessing air pollution, ozone depletion, and metal contamination.”
The lichen in summary:
If you’re amazed by them like I am, check out “How a Guy From a Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology” in the 21 July 2016 Atlantic magazine.
Up through the cracks
Up through the broken glass
In the hot red light of a black and white
— Concrete Blonde, “Roses Grow”
Thanks for checking in. Be sure to see what the other 31 Dayers are writing about.