Red Hat Lichen

It’s been a cold, gray, rainy week. I’m not complaining – we need the rain. It was hard to talk myself into going out for a walk this afternoon, but I was glad I did.

I took a lot of random photos and pished at some birds, and on my way back I came across an old stump with some eye-catching lichen growing on it.

Beyond a basic understanding of what lichen is (a symbiotic relationship between fungus and algae or bacteria), I know almost nothing about it, but I’m assuming the red bits are some sort of fruiting bodies. Am I right? I tried to look up information on the life cycle of lichen and ended up just confusing myself, mostly.

At some point I’d really like to learn more about identifying lichens (and mosses and lycopods). I think there’s a lichen field guide in the school library – maybe it’s time to check it out. In the meantime, I’m dubbing this one “red hat lichen.”

UPDATE: Ah ha! Cladonia! Maybe. At least there are lichens in this genus that look very similar to mine with the red hats.

13 replies on “Red Hat Lichen”

I think a lot of people without much natural history background assume lichen is some sort of moss – it’s an understandable mistake. But yeah, it’s actually not a plant at all, it’s fungus with symbiotic photosynthetic microorganisms.

This is British Soldier lichen (Cladonia cristatella) which actually the scientific name of the fungus part of the symbiotic relationship with the algae whose scientific name is Trebouxia erici. Don’t be confused, it is common to name the lichen after the fungal part. This particular lichen break down woody debris, rocks, and soils, grabs nitrogen from the air and creates a nearly perfect place for future plant growth, although this may take thousands of years.

Thanks for the information! That was my guess, but since I understand it can be hard to identify lichen to species if you’re not an expert, I decided to play it safe and only name the genus. I like that its actual name is just as whimsical as the one I gave it.

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