Sunday, April 12, 2015

Cladonia sp. lichen - The Forest Within the Forest

Sometimes little effort and little space is needed to find wildlife. For instance a single boulder (anywhere, USA) likely has six or more species of crustose (pancake-like in structure) lichen growing on it. Secondly, season doesn't effect lichen watching - snow can't cover everything (e.g. tree trunks, yep lichens grow there).  Thirdly, looking where you step in the forest is the perfect behavior for finding lichens. Yep, soil is one of the most widespread substrate for lichen, especially those species in the genus Cladonia, generically referred to as Pixie Cup Lichen.

Wildlife names usually hint at what the plant/animal looks like. So, Pixie refers to the "little people" myth of the United Kingdom and I'm guessing they employed Cladonia as drinking vessels (many are cup-like in structure and these lichen occur in Great Britain).  The "little people" must have been really small as many of these lichen are only a half-inch tall, if that. For sure they look like cups, but also like a miniaturized forest, stumps and shrubs in particular. You will see what I mean if you take along a hand lens/camera; either is sufficient to magnify and identify. Any public land area in your area should have a representative of the Cladonia genus; there are 128 species in the U.S. (Brodo et al 2001).

Video (habitat and context) and macrophotographs of four species found in the span of a 30 yard road cut at Bass Creek NRA (Stevensville, MT) follow:

Cladonia multiformis (Sieve Lichen)

Cladonia chlorophaea (Mealy Pixie-cup)

Cladonia coniocraea (Common Powderhorn)

Cladonia fimbriata (Trumpet Lichen)