A few months ago, my husband and I went hiking in the Superstition Mountains.  These mountains lie just east of the Phoenix metro area and are absolutely beautiful.  We saw many wonders as we hiked…..beautiful rock formations, stately saguaro cactus, springs of water coming up through rock, wildflowers, hummingbirds and butterflies.

 I had posted details of our trip in an earlier post, which you can read here if you like.  However, while I was busy taking pictures and taking in all of the beauty around me, my attention was drawn to a tiny plant the could easily be overlooked.

  My attention was captured at the lichen covered rocks that were all around.  I began to wonder how this little plant was able to survive on a rock – a very inhospitable place for a plant, I must say.  I have some small areas of lichen growing on the boulders in my garden as well.

To be honest, I have never given much thought to lichen before.  But, any plant that can grow and thrive on bare rock deserves a second look.

I did a little research about lichen….I do think I studied lichen back in college, but I honestly can’t remember much – I think I probably had to learn about them for a test and then promptly forgot what I had learned 😉  To be honest, I like most plants, but lichen seemed rather boring to me at the time, especially when I was learning about trees, grass, shrubs and perennials.

You know the phrase, “Don’t let appearances fool you?”  Well, this unassuming plant(s) had some surprises for me and I will share some of them with you.

Okay, fact #1 – lichen are actually made up of two different organisms, fungi and algae (and sometimes cyanobacteria).  Each of the organisms help the other.  Since the fungi cannot create their own food, they need the algae to photosynthesize and provide food.  In turn, the fungi provide protection for the algae allowing them to exist in difficult areas.

Fact #2 – they can grow in very inhospitable places such as rock, sand and arctic tundra.  *It seems to me like they find the most difficult place to grow and then move in 🙂

Fact #3 – Lichen are a food source for deer, squirrels and birds, especially in the winter when food is scarce.  You can also see bits of lichen used to make bird’s nests.

Fact #4 – Tea made from lichen has been used for medicinal purposes and as well as dyes.  In fact, lichen have been used in over 500 different biochemical compounds. 

One last interesting note that I found about the history of lichen.  Early in her career, the famous children’s author and illustrator, Beatrix Potter, worked as a scientific illustrator.  Through her work drawing lichen, she came to believe the theory that lichen was not just one plant, but two organisms co-existing together.

She was an ardent observer of the natural world and also drew pictures of animals, including rabbits.  Beatrix Potter then wrote a little story to go along with one of her illustrations and the rest they say, is history.  She went on to publish many children stories, including the famous “Peter Rabbit”.

And so what I have learned is that there are surprises, even in the smallest plants.  I mean who would have connected the dots between lichen and Beatrix Potter?

I hope you all have a wonderful week!  I am on my way to my mother’s house (Double S Farms) to make applesauce from the apples from their tree.  I will post about that later this week.