Lichen, the Biomonitor

Image of Usnea longissimi, or old man’s beard on the trees

From the rocks by the dock to the trees around the playground; from the benches on the trails to the pavement of the parking lot, lichens can be found just about anywhere here at Alderbrook Resort and Spa. They are incredibly diverse, with over 1,500 different species just in the Pacific Northwest, adding to the beauty of our enchanted landscape. Learning, or at least attempting to learn the different species can be a pleasant activity for all ages.

While some lichens may resemble moss or other plants, they are actually the composite of a mutualistic relationship between fungus and algae, or sometimes blue-green cyanobacteria. They come in a variety of colors (especially vibrant when wet), textures, and forms. Species are usually separated into three groups based on their forms: crustose, or crust-like; foliose, or leaf-like; and fruticose, or shrub-like.

Not only are lichens especially beautiful living things for us to explore, but they also function as a very important part of the ecosystem. They are a favorite building material for nesting birds, a food source for many animals and insects, and a nitrogen-fixing organism that enhances soil quality. Since lichens have varying tolerances towards elements of the environment, they have been used by scientists since the 1970’s as a monitor for air quality, climate change, and overall ecosystem health.

Usnea longissimi, or old man’s beard, is a species that is uber sensitive to poor air quality. This lichen is becoming rarer across its range, but it has a nice home here in the PNW temperate rainforest, where it can reach 20 feet in length. Old man’s beard and other lichens make up the picturesque PNW scenery, so hopefully they will be here for a long time. But hey, you never know, so you better book your stay now.

 

You will lichen your stay here,

 

MS