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A FEW LICHENS LEFT J. C . N .

WILLIS

I have a liking for these most ancient of plants, that when our Earth was ready for Vegetation, prepared a soil and habitat for the next vegetable division—the Mosses and much later Flowering Plants. Being very old they are generally despised—not only are they old in the vegetable kingdom, individual plants may have lived on the same Spot for two or three hundred years. That patch of gold on the roof-tiles was there in the 16th Century—as old as the roof itself. They grow extremely slowly and a plant the size of a sixpence is 300 years later the size of a Shilling or half-crown. But they get no honour for antiquity or age. I once caught a relative busily scraping them off the trunks of her apple-trees. I protested "It's lovely". "But look how it has killed that tree over there." "No, that tree was probably dead before they lighted on it. They have no root or suckers to draw sustenance out of the bark or wood. Those threads are rhizoids (root-like) hold-fast only. Lichens are symbionts, an intimate union of a fungus and an alga. The fungi are of species not found growing independently as other fungi do, but the algae do so occur. On bare rocks or sand and living on air (that is the alga's part in the association) they made soil and protection for mosses to grow among them. One sees the two together all over Breckland and on tree-trunks and walls. We are fortunate in SufTolk that great factory chimneys and domestic chimneys have not yet so fouled the air that lichens cannot grow here. It is hopeless to look for lichens for miles around Manchester and you will scarcely find any in Ipswich itself. I have found scanty patches of some crustaceous ones on a low wall in Christchurch Park, but that I suppose is screened by the trees overhead—there are none on my garden wall—a suitable habitat. But what a joy it is to go into the depths of the New Forest and be swept by Alectorias a yard or more long hanging from the branches of trees and see Usneas not so long and others of bushy habitat along the branches. You can see them in many old woodlands and in younger plantations too, but new housing estates nearby will soon put an end to them.


FEW LICHENS LEFT

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I remember as a g i r l on a W a l k i n g tour a l o n g the coast of Cornwall being bidden by my father to look for Roccella fuciformis. It was becoming very scarce there, for down the centuries people had been gathering it to get a dye for wool. There are other lichens that give dyes of other colours—the reds and yellows and black for tartan kilts and trews—those gay clothes in which Celts met Julius Caesar on the Kent coast in B.C. 55 and which their k i n s m e n Celts in Scotland have gone on wearing until today. I did not find any, but years later when I took a boat from Alderney to the tiny island of Burhou I saw it almost immediately hanging beneath a ledge of rock. I took it at first for sea-weed and wondered how it could have been left high and dry so far above the present tide mark, I went closer and knew it was Roccella surviving on an uninhabited little island, I was not so joyful when I returned to my landing place and saw that the tide had gone down many feet and instead of the ledge of rock just above the water onto which I had stepped from the boat was vertical rock face of eight to ten feet and boulders below and no foothold within my reach. Two Ornithologists came along who had arrived by another boat. One took my by the wrists and let me down like a sack of potatoes to the other below who put me safely on my feet. As we waited for our boats I heard that they had had a poor day, but I was triumphant with that small bunch of dry grey "sea-weed". Another liehen came to me without such loss of dignity. Anne Beaufoy got it for me on the Torriden Mts. in Ross-shire—Cerania vernicularis. It looks like a tangle of dead, white, worms among the heather. The Iceland Moss, so called, Cetraria islandica, I found myself on the west coast of County Mayo, but you can, if you want some, get it at any Chemist's shop. Stewed to a jelly it is good for pneumonia, but you had better get your Doctor to prescribe it. If you are interested in these sometimes ugly—like Dog's Skin, Peltigera canina—or lovely plants like the Pixy Caps, Cladonia pyxidata and many others of that genus do please put some in an envelope and send them to me, I have a big collection—my own andmy father's—but unhappily I have lost all my Suffolk speeimens.

Few Lichens Left  
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