Most people who walk past these little guys probably think that they are moss or some kind of other Bryophyte plant, however, that could not be further from the truth. Lichen is actually two (Sometimes three or more) different animals that live together is the same body! Like something out of a Si-Fi movie but I assure you it is real. Today is the first post where we will not be talking about plants specifically. That’s right, Lichen is not a plant, nor is it even closely related to one. A lichen is a fusion of cyanobacteria (sometimes), fungi and algae.
It is also so much more. Lichen is usually the first to populate an area after a disaster or in a new area that is not accessible to plants yet, like a new lava flow. They populate, die and decompose and eventually build up a soil layer where other tiny plants can grow, like mosses, liverworts and hornworts. Soon after ferns and fern allies and eventually vascular plants. The process can take hundreds of years depending how isolated the location is (Like a remote volcanic island). Take a look at this stick that I keep in my Geckos enclosure;
A very dear friend of mine gave me this when they went on a trip to Washington, growing perfectly in the shade, it has done nicely in my high humidity, low light well ventilated terrarium. How many different plants and lichens can you see growing in this one picture? Lets take a closer look!
Firstly is the most obvious. This is a Moss species most commonly referred to as “Bristle Moss” its a fast growing moss, and in my experience it usually appreciates a little more light. I cant tell the different species apart though and I’m sure the ones that grow here in Nevada are different than those of Washington state. Some of these Bryophyte Bros can take one look at these mosses and liverworts and tell you exactly what kind it is. I can not imagine the amount of attention to detail and extensive knowledge of morphology and taxonomy it would take to get to that level. Remember I specialize in long-living perennial vascular plants but I do love botany in general and know enough about these little guys to at least get the different families and genus a hopefully correct ID. I hope one day I can meet someone who specializes in Bryophytes so I can really pick their brain.
Some Bryophytes are so hard to ID I can’t even tell if the scale like plant on the bottom is a moss or a liverwort? Again, these Bryophtye people will probably read this and laugh at my confusion.
I was always under the impression that lichen needed more sunlight than mosses, generally. I think that the “underside” of this branch was actually facing the sun and all the mosses were growing beneath it. eventually it fell was was collected on the forest floor. I have noticed in recent weeks the Lichens are bringing on a red color hue. Probably not good.
Look at this FREAK. I think Staghorn Lichen is some of the cooler kinds, its supposed to be called a macrolichen because it grows away from the ground instead of basally(?) along the ground. It’s the blueish one that looks like, well, a stags horn. Not a very imaginative or creative name, but imagine this: Some Lichens have lost the ability to sexually reproduce. Supposedly, they are the longest living things on earth, and some people have even created geomorphic method to date different stones by measuring the growth rate of the lichens on it. It’s called Lichenometry. Isn’t that nuts? Where the hell do I find these people??
Here is a shot of how it stays in my vivarium, its about 6″ away from the light source. The lights are already heavily shaded at this point by the plants growing above it. I’m sure the lichen wont hold out in this environment forever but for the last few months its looked pretty good.
Here is some more of that rust red coloring I was talking about. Oddly, only the lichen facing the lighter part of the Viv is doing this. Sadly I think their days are numbered. There are a couple issues with keeping these things alive inside of a home. Firstly the need super clean air, pollution is a killer and that’s why you’ll never see Lichen growing near the inner cities. They also need lots of air movement, something next to impossible for me to give it as its inside this small gecko terrarium. I think the only way would be to install some kind of little fan?
Finally, these are the two inhabitants of the Vivaium. They are most commonly called the chameleon gecko because the have the ability to “Fire up” their colors. They are pretty easy to keep. They come from New Caledonia or “The land of Eternal Spring”, called so, because the temperature stays a nice 68-85F year around and rains about three times a week. So basically if you are comfortable in your home so are they, as long as you got water, some lights for the plants and a little crushed fruit you are good to go! Oh, and if you couldn’t tell, they are also really-a-Lichen those Mosses! Thanks for reading!