Staghorn Lichen

Staghorn lichen (Evernia prunastri), also called oakmoss, is common and widespread in deciduous woodlands. This example was found in the park by Ian, on low growing oak branches. It is very sensitive to air pollution and is an indicator of good air quality.

It is commercially harvested in south and central Europe for use in the perfume industry. Traditionally, it is the source of the sweet, woody notes in chypre-style fragrances. It is particularly desirable if it has been growing on conifers.

This and the header picture taken in the park by Ian Bushell

Lichens are composite organisms consisting of an alga or a cyanobacterium living among the filaments of a fungus in a symbiotic relationship. In any symbiosis both organisms benefit: in a lichen the alga benefits from the structure of the fungus, which lifts it into the air and light where it can best photosynthesise, and the fungus gains from the products of that photosynthesis.

Lichens come in many colours, sizes, and forms; sometimes, as in the staghorn lichen, they look very plant-like, although they are not classed as plants. A lichen doesn’t have roots that absorb water and nutrients like a plant does but its photosynthesis is very plant-like behaviour.

There are about 20,000 known species of lichens and it is estimated that they cover 6% of the Earth’s land surface. They can be very long-lived; some species live thousands of years. In the arctic, specimens of a species called the map lichen (Rhizocarpus geographicum) have been estimated to be 8,600 years old; as yet we know of no other living organisms on the planet that live that long..

Staghorn is one of several species of lichen that have colonised the Wildlife Wheel at the bottom of the The Race. Next time you pass the Wheel, stop and take a minute to admire its thriving lichen colonies.

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