Who says nothing grows in winter?

Well probably nobody, really, but post titles need to be written and moved on from quickly or they become an Impossible Thing in their own way.   It’s a few days into 2019 and I feel I need to start posting photos and learning about what’s in them, since that *was* a stated aim of trying this blog in the first place.  The weather has been mild, even unseasonably warm, and while weather forecasts are vaguely muttering about possible effects from potential polar vortices, as one of ninety nine other options, blossom is appearing on a few branches without a hint of temerity, and the rich green of spring bulb spikes are bustling upwards in a decidedly “full steam ahead” invasion.

Meanwhile the “plants” I associate with the dead of winter, lichen, are having a great winter as far as I can tell. I was told as a child that lichen are what reindeer ate, so they’ve got this weird Christmas association for me.  They’re not a winter phenomena of course, but standing out starkly on bare winter branches they’re more visible and command more of my attention.

Lichens are actually symbiotes,  fungi teaming up again to make life better and more interesting, this time with algae (or cyanobacteria). The fungus provides the body (thallus) in which the partner can live.  The fungus takes care of the UV and drought protection while the algae provides the food (carbohydrates) to the fungus from carbon dioxide and water, with the aid of sunlight.   Unlike the mosses also appearing in the feature image on this post,  lichens do not have green leaves or a stem.   They come in a variety of grey through ghostly to green shades – the envy of many a miniature painter the world over (ask me how I know)

My experience so far is limited to three types, the crusty, pasted right on to rock or branch type that look somewhat like rust, the leafy type that has leaflet like growths that stand somewhat proud of the surface and branch-y or bushy types which look like miniature plants stuck on, often somewhat clumsily.

My grandfather’s garden wall had a planet like surface of crusty lichens or algae (I couldn’t say definitely) that was invaded by tiny red insects we called bloodsuckers.  I think they were a variety of mite, but I can’t reliably tell from memory comparison to photos anymore to correctly identify them.  I can remember, in the days when acid rain was a commonly talked about thing, that lichen – or rather its absence – was an indicator of pollution.  Few lichens could survive if an area was highly polluted by sulphur dioxide.

The lichens I commonly find around Clara Bog have the grey-green colour of nitrogen sensitive lichens, while the trees in Tullamore on my way to work sport that yellow/ orange acid green of nitrogen lovers.

As mentioned before the Clara bog varieties tend to be Cladonias.  In trying to learn a bit more about them generally I found this fantastic website http://www.irishlichens.ie/ with some photographs that really capture the tiny alien forest aspect of lichen. I absolutely recommend having a look for the spectacular close up shots if for no other reason!

I’m uploading these because while they are a cultivated plant rather than wild and, well, dead,  they’re still still prettily haunting the world in January.



I was around Maynooth University’s South Campus today with a dog who decided I was meant to be running, not walking for a great deal of the time.  He’s a great dog (not mine) and I am immensely fond of him,  but he did somewhat cramp my style fungus hunting for a while, or at least the acquisition of photos of same.  I have many, many photos of very cool and sometimes lovely fungi to upload and talk about from the last few months, but for right now I want to show you this one because it amuses me with its perfect little C.

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