I went camping a while back at Wallace Falls with my sweetie. I came across so much lichen (pronounced "li-ken") that was so beautiful in the damp forest. Some of it scaley looking, some of it soft and hair like, and some of it growing into antler-like branches. All blue and glowing in the dark forest. The lichen inspired me not only to learn more, but to use lichen and logs in a centerpiece job the following week for a gallery dinner!
Here are some of the lichen found on the forest floor...
Interesting stuff, lichen…
Lichen turns out to be a composite organism of green algae and fungus, the fungus providing structure and protection, and the alga providing the ability to photosynthesize.
I always thought lichen was a parasitic organism but it turns out I was wrong. Lichen do not have roots and do not harm their host (mostly the bark of trees where I live). They get their water and nutrients from the air, and the moisture on the bark. They are essential to Northwest forests in that they can take nitrogen out of the air and make it into a usable form by other plants. So when the lichen falls to the forest floor and decays, the forests nitrogen poor soils are enriched.
Also, because of their sensitivity to air pollutants, many NW lichens are used as indicators for clean air… or unclean air. These lichen discovered on my trip have been used in the past as dye by native communities. One is currently used in the perfume industry.
These centerpieces were made for a beautiful dinner event at one of Seattle University’s many elegant event spaces. The centerpieces were made possible by a convenient Alder tree that blew down in my yard.
Flowers included delicious chocolate sunflowers, light orange alstroemerias, orange asters, silvery frog balls, love in a mist pods, echinacea heads (petals removed), a dyed red willowy eucalyptus, and of course lichen encrusted branch tips as promised. I’m pretty sure that if I were a tiny fantastical forest creature I would like to live in this arrangement.