Beauty in small things

Lichen are so tiny and so close to the ground that we often ignore them. In close up they are fascinating. They are a fungal host in symbiosis with either algae or cyano-bacteria, which perform photosynthesis , under the protective cover of the fungal host. The component organisms cannot live independently: they need each other to survive.

It is possible to observe roughly how they reproduce, although many of the details are still not well understood. They have a variety of different methods.

The Trumpet lichen, of the genus Cladonia, extrudes tiny trumpet-shaped stalks called podetia:

Cladonia sp. lichen

The little pea-like objects inside the podetia are the lichen “spores”. More properly, they are called soredia, and they are granules of algae and fungi ready to disperse and start a new lichen. Here they are in close-up.

Cladonia sp. lichen

Other lichens have different strategies. This is a ruffle lichen, as I usually find them, on a fallen tree branch. .

Ruffle lichen

This one, however, looked different.

Ruffle lichen

In close-up, those brown patches are shiny:

Ruffle lichen

They are, I think, isidia: small growths of the upper cortex with a shiny surface, and they are the fruiting bodies of this type of lichen. They are brown after rain, they turned black the next day when they were dry,  then brown again after another rainy night.

The lichen below is a species of pelt lichen, Peltigera, that grows on rock, and the reddish brown upcurled lobes are the fruiting bodies:

Pelt species, with reddish brown lobes that are fruiting bodies

The moral of this tale is look closely at your lichen, especially after rain, and you might be delighted. This illustration is from a 1908 German book, entitled “Flora im Winterkleide”, or “Flowers in winter dress”, the artist clearly recognizing the beauty to be found in small things.


3 thoughts on “Beauty in small things”

  1. Beautifully detailed photos & so interesting. I see the ruffled lichens up in trees around here…looks a little odd.


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