Lichen can be observed in abundance on the miles of stone walls of the area.

Gerry Costello

A Stone wall on which Lichen is thriving. Where you have Lichen such as this the air contains little or no pollution.
© Gerry Costello

Lichen Is A Composite Organism

After observing the stone walls of the area and how they were built we take a closer look at the stones themselves. Looking at the stones one observes that the surface contains white and orange coloured patches. these are natural life forms known as Lichen and there is plenty of it to be seen in this area.  A lichen is a composite organism that emerges from algae or cyanobacteria (or both) living among filaments of a fungus in a mutually beneficial (symbiotic) relationship.The whole combined life form has properties that are very different to properties of its component organisms. Lichens come in many colours, sizes, and forms. The properties are sometimes plant-like, but lichens are not plants. Lichens may grow like a tiny, leafless, branching shrub (fruticose), like it has leaves (foliose), like a crust of paint on a surface (crustose), or have other growth forms. A macrolichen is a lichen that is either bush-like or leafy. A microlichen is everything else. Here, “macro” and “micro” do not refer to size, but to the growth form.


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 don’t have roots that absorb water and nutrients like in plants. Instead they produce their own food from sunlight, air, water, and minerals in their environment. They are not parasites on the plants they may grow on, but only use them as a substrate to grow on or in.

6% Earth Coverage

Lichens occur from sea level to high alpine elevations, in a very wide range of environmental conditions, and can grow on almost any surface. Lichens are abundant growing on bark, leaves, mosses, on other lichens, and hanging from branches “living on thin air” (epiphytes) in rain forests and in temperate woodland. They grow on bare rock, walls, gravestones, roofs, exposed soil surfaces, and in the soil as part of a biological soil crust. They can survive in some of the most extreme environments on Earth: arctic tundra, hot dry deserts, rocky coasts, and toxic slag heaps. They can even live inside solid rock, growing between the grains. Some lichens don’t grow on anything, living out their lives blowing about the environment. It is estimated that 6% of Earth’s land surface is covered by lichen.Colonies of lichens may be spectacular in appearance, dominating much of the surface of the visual landscape in forests and natural places.

20,000 Known Species Of Lichen

The fungus benefits from the symbiotic relation because algae or cyanobacteria produce food by photosynthesis. The algae or cyanobacteria benefit by being protected from the environment by the filaments of the fungus, which also gather moisture and nutrients from the environment, and (usually) provide an anchor to it. Lichenized fungus may refer to the entire lichen, or to the fungus growing in it. The lichen combination of fungus with algae and/or cyanobacteria has a very different form (morphology), physiology, and biochemistry than the parts growing by themselves. 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. By convention, lichens have the same scientific name as the fungus in them, and are not classified according to the species of the algae and/or cyanobacteria growing in them. The algae or cyanobacteria has its own, unique, scientific name (binomial name). There are in or  about 20,000 known species of lichens. Some lichens have lost the ability to reproduce sexually, yet continue to speciate. Recent perspectives on lichens include that they 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 (holobiont).

The First Living Things To Grow On Fresh Rock

Lichens may be long-lived, with some considered to be among the oldest living things. They are among the first living things to grow on fresh rock exposed after an event such as a landslide. The long life-span and slow and regular growth rate of some lichens can be used to date the event (lichenometry). Many lichens are very sensitive to environmental disturbances and can be used in cheaply assessing air pollution, ozone depletion, and metal contamination. Lichens have been used in making dyes, perfumes, and in traditional medicines. Few lichen species are eaten by insects or larger animals.


This page was added on 28/11/2014.

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