Living with Us… Lichen (Wah’kon ᐗᑯᓐ )

The forest is such a diverse place, filled with plants, animals, fungi (mushrooms) and some very important organisms called lichen. An interesting and mutual relationship between algae (or cyanobacteria) and a variety of different fungi create this plant-like form that can be found worldwide.  The algae part of the lichen photosynthesizes, meaning that it collects energy from the sun, fuelling the fungi part which creates the structure of the lichen. There are three main body types of lichen: foliose (looks like flat leaves), fruticose (looks like tiny leafless branches or beard hair!) and crustose (looks like a thin layer of crust or peeling paint).

Did you know?

There are around 15,000 species of lichen found worldwide in all shapes, sizes and colours!  Canada is home to 2,500 lichen species, including the fruticose lichen seen blanketing the ground in woodlands often called caribou or reindeer moss.  These lichens are a major food source for woodland caribou, especially in the cold winter months when fresh leaves and grasses are scarce.  Caribou are specially adapted to consume these lichen, which are a slow-forming organism and are highly vulnerable to human disturbance, putting declining caribou populations further at risk.