04 May 2012

A Most Interesting Love Affair

Have you heard the story about the alga and the fungus that met and fell in love?  Sounds like a far-fetched fairy tale, doesn't it?  Amazingly, this actually happens naturally, regularly, and on every continent on Earth, and the results, called lichens, can be absolutely astonishing.  A lichen is the organism that results from the mutualistic, parasitic, or commensal relationship (called symbiosis) between a fungus and an alga or a cyanobacterium.

In no way do I claim to know lichens, but I had to take photographs of the nearly fluorescent lichens that we saw when in Colorado last month.  The bright yellow lichen in the photograph above may be an egg yolk lichen (Candelariella sp., possibly C. rosulans), and the resplendent orange lichen in the photograph below may be an elegant sunburst lichen (Xanthoria sp., possibly X. elegans).

Lichens often grow in seemingly uninhabitable places, such as on bare rock, tree trunks, and buildings. They are early succesional and help to create conditions more suitable for vascular plants.  Thank you, fungi and algae, for joining forces to produce the organisms that colonize bare rock, trap dust and water, and eventually help to create enough soil for my beloved vascular plants to grow in primary communities.

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