Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cladonia ciliata var. tenuis

Cladonia ciliata var. tenuis as I'm sure you are all already well aware. This beautiful lichen was noticed on a walk over Christmas on the dunes behind Oxwich bay on Gower in south Wales. I was born on Gower and grew up in Swansea where my parents still reside. It was where the tiny spores of natural history interest first settled, shed by people like Dr Michael Isaac, a Scout leader who happened to be an academic marine biologist. I well recall a 'night hike' under a full moon along the south coast of Gower peninsular 

(incidentally, Gower was the first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to be so designated) and seeing Noctiluca scintillans for the first time (also at Oxwich). It was astonishing. I have only seen it once since then, but never as florid. Michael knew immediately all about it and I've remembered the name of this funny little marine organism ever since.

I've made the photo large so you can appreciate better its amazing appearance. How many lichens can you name? Funny really as they're much more visible than even blue tits. The problem is that to appreciate many of them you really need to get up close and personal, preferably with a x10 optical device such as a hand lens

Lichens are on my 'to do' list. I have started by borrowing a book by William Purvis called, simply enough, 'Lichens'. (It's published by the Natural History Museum.) Mr Purvis is not to be trifled with when it comes to matters lichenous and this book is a nicely pitched distillation of a lifetime of accrued expertise, pitched at a level commensurate with O-level biology. 

They are a fascinating group because they are made up to more than one organism: usually a fungus, or mycobiont, and an algae, or photobiont. The latter can be green algae, yellow-green algae or cyanobacteria which are invariably 'trapped' by the fungal partner. The lichen is known by the name of the fungal partner. 

The exact nature of the relationship between the fungus and the other partner is still discussed. Mostly the fungus is only found existing as a lichen, although some have been grown in laboratories without their photobiont partners. When this is achieved it bears no resemblance to the lichen, commonly appearing as a mouldy amorphous mass.

I have Simon Davey to thank for the identification (see his blog - Inspired by Ecology). The Cladonia genus is sometimes referred to as the reindeer lichens as they are widespread in the arctic tundra where they form a significant percentage of the diet of reindeer.
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