Hairy Trees and Edible Lichen

Some of the trees here appear to have rough brown hair draped from their branches.

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This is a type of lichen, specifically one from the genus Bryoria. Some Native American tribes have stories about how Coyote got stuck in a tree and had to cut off his fur to get free, creating this lichen in the process. There are very few lichens that are regularly eaten by people, but this one is, or at least was. Native people collected the long, brown clumps of strands, washed and soaked them, and cooked them into loaves in pits.

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Can’t say I’ve tried it myself. But the hairy brown clumps in the conifers are impossible to miss.

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Remember: lichen is an association between a fungus (providing structure) and an algae (providing photosynthate, that is, food). As many of my former students could tell you, there is a handy joke for remembering this. Would you try lichen loaf for dinner if someone offered you some?

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6 thoughts on “Hairy Trees and Edible Lichen”

  1. I remember my Introductory Botany professor telling us that lichens were edible, and often used for survival food. The next time I was in the woods, I gathered a hefty handful of various types and ate them. I’d have to be VERY near death to do it again. I suppose they may have been more palatable if boiled, but haven’t tried that yet. I guess that, if I had the means to boil anything, I wouldn’t be in much of a survival situation anyway.

  2. I have used many a one of these lichen as fire starter. Moderately dry is ideal–you don’t want it to crumble to bits in your hand, but fully hydrated doesn’t light too well (mostly just smolders at that point).

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