Thursday, February 18, 2016

Rhizocarpon geographicum - Map Lichen

My annual Scottish winter trip was based in Tongue, Sutherland, at the end of January. Our time was bookended by two storms: Gertrude and Henry. Consequently we enjoyed spectacular weather: howling winds whipping the skin off the sea on Loch Eriboll; stinging rain on our coastal walk; spindrift off the mountainsides; snow; hail; sudden shafts of sunlight and cloudscapes to rival the dramatic scenery below. 

In the middle was a day of peace and an opportunity to walk upwards. We set our eyes on Ben Hope, the northernmost Munro and an easier walk than the lower, but more imposing, Ben Loyal. We returned to Tongue via Altnaharra on the longest single-track road segments devoid of passing places that I've ever been on. Quite what we'd have done had we encountered on-coming traffic I don't know. 

Just south of the starting place for the Ben Hope walk is a ruined broch: Broch Dun Dornaigil. Brochs are unique to the north of Scotland, the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. Most were built around 2000 years ago in the late Iron Age. Archaeologists still don't agree on their nature, although it is generally agreed that they are not militaristic. 

This one had an impressive array of lichens on one of the large stones on the southern side. There are a number of species but the obvious one is Rhizocarpon geographicum forming the appearance of a map of English counties. 

Thursday, February 04, 2016


A new species. Possibly not the first this year as I've managed to identify a few mosses and liverworts, but I was reminded of the blog by one of my erstwhile readers whilst we perambulated Box Hill in Surrey and nudged into action. 
Box Hill is famous for, and named after, the Box, Buxus sempervirens, which grows in profusion on its flanks. It is just north or Dorking and part of the North Downs chalk ridge. From it we could clearly make out Chanctonbury Ring on the South Downs.
Box seems to behave a bit like yew. The seedlings develop in areas of deep shade and, presumably because of its evergreen nature, can continue growing before the deciduous canopy gets the upper hand. The canopy here is mostly beech. There is also plenty of yew around.
Box is a smelly plant. It is slow growing, producing very hard wood which is especially valued by wood-engravers who carve into the end-grain of blocks formed from it. It is perhaps most familiar to people as a plant of topiary and parterres, leading many to think it must have been introduced. It is, however, a stalwart native with many places named after it. e.g. Bexhill, Bexley, Box Hill, Bix and Bixley.