#FungiFriday: Lichens in Dartmoor

Fungi Friday 22nd January 2020

Last week I posted about cup lichens as part of #LichenJanuary, with a heavy focus on the West of Ireland (where President Joe Biden’s ancestors are from, wahey!). This week it’s anotherly westerly part of the British Isles that gets some attention: Dartmoor National Park.

Dartmoor is renowned for its moorland and rocky hillscape in Devon, south-west England. It’s famous for its graphite outcrops or ‘tors’ which dot the landscape. It’s a very wet place, another reason why it’s so boggy. All in all a tremendous place for lichens and other moisture-loving organisms like mosses.

One of the most famous places in Dartmoor is a small area of woodland called Wistman’s Wood, a National Nature Reserve near Postbridge. This well-loved wood is home to scraggly oaks dripping in moss and lichen. These are also exceptional places for lichens. The wood itself is known for its misty scenes, with the trees clinging on to the moisture in the air. That is only a good thing for lichens and mosses.

This bubbly-looking boulder lichen was growing on the approach to Wistman’s Wood. The threads in the lower right-hand part of the image are hairs from sheep or cattle which have squeezed past the rock.

Another boulder held a spidery community of foliose (leafy) lichens.

Mandarin duck with ducklings

Here is a rather nice example of a lichen-covered boulder in the river Dart. This is a female mandarin with her ducklings. This was in June and while rain isn’t unusual in Dartmoor in summer, you can see it has been warmer around the time of the photo because the mosses are blackened and dessicated.

Wistman’s Wood

The lichens in woodland like Wistman’s are found on rocky substrates and the branches of the trees. It’s interesting that these boulders are at great density in this woodland but not the same in the wider landscape. That is probably because the wider landscape has been cleared of woodland and then the boulders left behind, for livestock grazing. Woodland was cleared from Dartmoor long ago, mainly during the Bronze Age, from what I know.

This photo won’t display in portrait, but it’s an oak trunk covered in epiphytes – lichens, mosses and ferns coating the bark. This is the British and Irish equivalent of rainforest, or Atlantic oak woodland.

Dartmoor’s oak branches are rich in beard lichens, I think this is a species of usnea.

Some of the less flamboyant lichens, but probably more common, are these pore lichens. I think pore lichen is an American name, which isn’t used in Britain. I don’t really care and am always frustrated with the rigidity by which species recorders approach these issues. We need common names to encourage more interest in nature. I know Tyrannosaurus rex is a popular name, but Latin names do not capture the imagination in the way that common names do. Stinkhorn, anyone?

As someone who grew up in a city, cemeteries were some of the first places I began to notice wildlife. I think they are special places also because their atmosphere is so different to the rest of the built-upon or managed landscape. At Widecombe-in-the-Moor, there is one of the best lichen cemeteries I know. Not that they’re dead, they’re well and truly alive and kicking.

This cross is a dream. There are foliose and crustose lichens, and it hasn’t been tidied up by the cemetery managers (I don’t. The air quality is also excellent in this area, allowing for more species to find a place to live. Below is a selection of the species I found growing on gravestones in this cemetery:

I couldn’t let this woodlouse get away without being included along with these frosty fruiting cups.

Above is a really cool insect, a downlooker snipefly! I’ve also found this species on lichen-encrusted boulders in Western Ireland, a similar climate and landscape type.

The village of Widecombe has a large sycamore growing on the edge of the green. This tree shows why scyamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) is a good wildlife tree, because it can provide habitat for lichens.

It looks like a perfect place to sit and cotemplate the amazing lichens you can find in Dartmoor.

Thanks for reading.

Further fungi

#FungiFriday: pixie cup lichens

Fungi Friday 15th January 2021

This week it’s a continuation of #LichenJanuary. It’s a time of year when winter is at its deepest, more grey than snowy in southern England. In towns and cities lichens come to the fore. If you’re looking for something to take your mind of the wider world this month, lichens are your friend.

The other day I had the idea to post on Twitter asking for people to share their lichen photos from around the world. In a time when we are unable to travel anywhere and people are suffering, it felt like a positive thing to do:

After a little while, people from all over the world began to post their photos. Over night UK time there were a series of posts from Japanese lichen lovers. It is one of the most incredible things about social media and the Internet, that someone can post in Japanese and the software does a decent job of translating it. A couple of the Japanese tweets included Cladonia lichens, what in English we generally refer to as cup lichens:

And here someone posted: ‘my home lichen’:

My interest in lichen originates from my Irish roots. There is a track at the foot of the Ox Mountains in Mayo, western Ireland, that I have walked many times with my family. It is surrounded by old boulders and bogs, all drenched in lichens. Some of the species I got to know there were reindeer lichens, Cladonia portenosa.

Reindeer lichen, February 2012

Reindeer lichens seem to get their name from the fact their structure is like reindeer antlers. They are also known to be grazed by reindeer where they grow in Scandinavia. I believe they are also used as for dyeing cloth and as a delicacy in posh restaurants.

Lipstick lichens, May 2017

One Cladonia that catches the eye is Cladonia floerkeana, also known as devil’s matchstick lichen. Seriously, anything red is devilish?! I like the name lipstick lichens, and I will be calling them that.

Lipstick lichens, May 2017

These lichens were growing on top of the Ox Mountains (what are really hills when it comes to height). They are covered by boglands on the plateau. Mayo is a place with very high levels of annual rainfall, making it perfect for these moisture dependent organisms.

Lipstick lichens, March 2013

The lipstick lichens were growing on top of a boulder, while others could be found growing among vegetation in the bogs. I can’t wait to go back there and see what I can find. Here is an image from a few years earlier, when I didn’t own a macro lens. It gives a sense of their habitat.

This is the land of the lichen. In the distance you can see Nephin, a mountain which has just had a new book written about it.

Cup lichens, January 2021

There is a farm near to where I live now in Sussex that has its own populations of cup lichens. I have noticed in recent years how fencing posts which are not treated with chemicals can important habitats for lichen, moss and fungi. The cup lichens above are very happy with their current abode.

Cup lichens, 2019, Sussex

These lichens seem to be noticed more than any other. They look splendid holding onto droplets of water in their cups, and their very nature of reaching upwards draws them to our attention. They are the quintessential ‘pixie’ cup lichens.

Thanks for reading.

Next week: Dartmoor

Further fungi

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#FungiFriday: the golden shield lichen

Fungi Friday 8th January 2021

Once again in England we have to stay at home to stop the spread of the horrific Coronavirus, with only one exercise trip outside allowed each day. When I’ve been heading out I’ve been passing through a local churchyard and cemetery on some days. These are the perfect places to find lichens, especially where there are old gravestones and trees. I thought I would kick off #LichenJanuary by looking at one of the most common lichens, which may help people to gain an interest and see that there is a way in. To identifying them, rather than becoming one.

A quick intro to lichens. Lichens are a partnership of fungi with either algae or cyanobacteria. The fungus provides the physical structure for the organism and the algae or cyanobacteria turns sunlight into sugar through photosynthesis. Fungi, to my knowledge, are not able to photosynthesise. This is another reason why fungi partner with plants, which of course are able to harvest sunlight for food. There are a number of species on the branch seen here. The most prominent species is showing off its cup fungi, a type of ascomycete (ass-co-my-seat). Ascomycetes produce spores in the ‘ascus’ (singular) or ‘asci’ (plural) and shoot them out. Most mushroom-type fungi are basidiomycetes, which drop spores from the ‘basidia’ in the gills.

Now, fungi are hard to identify, and lichens can be even more difficult. That is such a massive understatement, because some fungi will never be seen and some lichens you just won’t ever notice. We’re talking generally of things you are likely to see in your life. Above and below is a common European lichen, tolerant of air pollution, which many lichens are not. It’s the golden shield lichen, Xanthoria parietina. If you want to learn more about lichen ID I would really recommend using iNaturalist which has good artificial intelligence and also some experts floating around who will help you to ID them.

Here’s another close-up of the golden shield lichen. It really can be found all over, and looking at its behaviour above, you can see why. It is a dominant species in urban areas.

From the top of the image above you can see Xanthoria creeping in on some rather pretty lichens. This is my favourite ever lichen photo. I spotted this fallen poplar branch several days before I took this photo and returned again to capture it.

Here’s Xanthoria with a hint of its pale blue colouring. Like other species which benefit from the increase of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere and the soil, nettles and brambles, for example, I think Xanthoria is a symbol of our impact. As things change over time, I wonder how its dominance will shift over time.

Next week: pixie cup lichens!

Thanks for reading.

Further fungi