You’ve probably passed it by a thousand times, this fascinating ecosystem that inhabits almost every type of surface and survives everywhere form the tropics to Polar Regions … the world of lichen.
Together they cover approximately 8% of the entire surface of the planet, are considered one of the oldest living things and currently about 25,000 species have been identified. It has no roots, stems or flowers, grows no more than 1mm each year and can live for several centuries.
But it’s so much more. It can invade bare rock and secrete acid that breaks down the rock to create soil. It extracts nitrogen from air and makes it available for plants. Birds use it to line their nests and squirrels, their burrows.
And man has used it in so many different ways. Some lichen has been found to have antibiotic and anti-viral qualities. Others are being researched for unique sun blocking properties after they were taken into space in 2009 and exposed to the full force of the sun’s radiation for 15 days with no harmful effects.
Lichen has also been used for tanning, clothing, brewing, perfume making, even poisons. It has been used widely for dying wool and silk, beautiful, rich natural dye. Harris Tweed’s characteristic orange colour was traditionally produced using a dye extracted from rock dwelling lichen.
No doubt it was part of the artist’s toolbox in early centuries as he milled all his own paint from nature before the industrial revolution introduced another way.
And it reminds me that we need each other, that in mutuality we can create even greater beauty.
Be open to the amazingly complex and unique world of lichen and be surprised by its beauty and diversity ... its all around us waiting to be enjoyed.