From Devil’s Matchsticks to Powderhorns

Year of Natural Scotland – Lichens in Miniature

Cladonia floerkeana, Florke's Cup Lichen or Devil's Matchsticks
Cladonia floerkeana – Florke’s Cup Lichen or Devil’s Matchsticks

Is it a plant? An animal?
No it’s a fungus, well actually it is a lichen,  a compound organism comprising a fungus, an alga and sometimes a cyanobacterium. They co-exist in a mutually beneficial partnership: the algae and/or cyanobacteria are protected from the environment by the fungal body, and the fungus receives nutrients from the algae which are produced by photosynthesis. The cyanobacteria also have the ability to fix nitrogen. This complex relationship enables lichens to colonise a very wide range of habitats.

Some are common and fairly ubiquitous, others more specialised with very particular requirements, some grow very, very slow whilst others grow relatively quickly often colonising new areas: everything from concrete and tree bark to old peat diggings. I particularly like the group known as cladonia, probably because of their very tactile fruiting (spore producing) structures which give rise to their common name of pixie cups. They are small so you need to get close to appreciate their splendor – which, in this part of the world, usually involves kneeling in a peat bog.

The genus Cladonia also includes reindeer moss, but that will have to wait for another Year of Natural Scotland post.

23 thoughts on “From Devil’s Matchsticks to Powderhorns

  1. I love lichens almost as much as I love mosses!

    • So do we, not only are they biologically fascinating they have such wonderful forms in an amazing variety.
      Himself has just started looking at mosses, so I’m sure he will provide me with some wonderful material for a future YONS blog

      • Every garden has its problems and challenges, and in the end it usually comes down to right plant in the right place and you just have to learn to love what you can grow.

  2. Hello from Central Virginia, USA~I love your blog, love Scotland, although do not spend enough time there, and YOUR part of Scotland! Hunker down a wee bit more and spring will be just round the corner. I wait and wonder at Mother Nature’s daily surprises. Diane ‘-)

    • Welcome, please feel free to drop by any time. We’ve still got the sunshine but with the cold NE wind has an arctic bite, so Spring may be a little later than scheduled.

  3. Fascinating photos. I’m learning about mosses at the moment, so lichens will have to follow I think!

    • Photo plaudits to himself as usual. We’ve just started to look at mosses, not easy to identify but lichens can be horrendously tough. Even without a name, they are fascinating.

  4. Wonderful opportunities for intriguing post titles, Christine – and so much information in the post as well. Himself is a dab hand at the photos too. Thanks to both of you for further education.

    • I know I should try to use the scientific names, but when the vernacular names are so good and memorable it’s difficult to ignore them.

  5. Hi Chris
    I find lichen absolutely fascinating. Your top photo is incredible – I love it. Moss is one of those understated beauties that some folks find annoying and ugly but not me.
    Thanks for posting on this interesting topic!

    • Hi Astrid. It is quite remarkable the detail which appears through a macro lens. It really is worth the wet knees (and usually posterior too) to get up close to some of these tiny plants/fungi.

  6. PJ

    They’re so beautiful… almost other worldly. I especially like the Devil’s Matchsticks!

    • I am absolutely thrilled that so many people are enjoying these exquisite creatures.

  7. what awesome lichens….great shots!

    • Thank you, photo credits to Himself. It is amazing what you can see when you take a close look.

  8. I do so love mosses and lichens. Thank you for the wonderful post. 🙂

  9. Adorable!!! Totally amazing! : )

    • Thank you. I am pleased you enjoyed the post – there will be more Year of Natural Scotland throughout the year, with plenty of wee beasties.

  10. The Devil’s Matchstick! What a great name for such a cool organism. It looks so delicate–I’ll bet that isn’t the case, though. I love the photo!

    • Hi Calvin, knew you would like these. These really are tiny, particularly the Devil’s Matchsticks – with the naked eye all you see are these tiny red pin pricks on exposed peat banks. I know my eye sight is not what it was (along with everything else) but you have to have the nose to the ground to find some of these. The ones on old logs are the best – not quite so far too bend!

  11. Nel

    Terrific lichens, look forward to more on mosses. Is it true if we have lots of lichen growing we have less pollution. My apple trees are covered in lichens.

    • I will write about mosses, but as they’re at their best in winter you may have to be patient. However, there is no shortage of fauna and flora to fill the gaps between garden posts and miscellaneous trivia.
      Many lichens species are indicators of pure air, not to mention mild damp oceanic climates, so Pembrokeshire should have a wonderful array of mosses, lichens and fungi, some of which I’ve already seen on you lovely site.

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