Did you know a unique organism lives close to you, and it helps detect air pollution?
Yep, lichen, that patchy, sometimes grayish-green stuff that grows on tree trunks, branches, rocks, houses, and even road edges. Lichen is neither plant nor animal but a fascinating combination of the two. Lichen combines a photosynthesizing partner (like green alga) and fungus (like a mushroom) to form an organism unlike any other on Earth. Many people think lichen is moss, but moss is entirely different. However, the two are often found together. Lichens are a prime example of a symbiotic organism (two organisms that depend on each other for survival), but the lichen pairs cannot be separated, unlike the symbiotic pairs.
Nature's Air Filter
Lichen comes in a variety of species, each filling different roles in an ecosystem. They grow harmlessly and are referred to as “keystone species” — one that is vital to the health and well-being of an entire ecosystem. We don’t want lichens to disappear for many reasons but primarily because they act as a scrubber for the air we breathe. Very much like a sponge cleans a floor, lichens help clean our air. Lichens trap particulate matter like dust and absorb smaller pollutants like sulfur, mercury, and nitrogen. Lichens may be tiny, but they do a giant job that helps to keep our planet healthy.
More Big Jobs For a Little Giant
Lichens also perform other services for their environment. They are incredibly important for establishing new ecosystems, providing food and shelter for animals, and preventing soil erosion. Some lichen can even “fix” nitrogen (a vital requirement for plant growth), making it available for other organisms. Lichens also protect what they grow on from wind, rain, and snow.
Join the Hunt
Would you like to learn more?
Stop in at the Beech Creek Gardens visitor center.
Grab an an Explorers backpack and explore the trails.
They're full of cool things to do, including the lichen hunt.
You too will be Love-n Lichen!