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Redwood Ranger Minute: Explore the Wonders of Lichen

Redwood National and State Parks

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Hello. Welcome to another ranger minute from Redwood National and State Parks. My name is Ranger Steve, and today, I’d like to discuss the importance of some of the smaller wonders you can find in this World Heritage Site. Our focus today is on lichen. Lichens are fungi that have a symbiotic relationship with algae. So, the soft, spongy nature of this fungus right here provides a safe, moist habitat for algae to live. In return, algae provide the fungus with valuable nutrients created during photosynthesis. Some lichen, like this lettuce lung and this lungwort additionally contain cyanobacteria. Wow! That’s like three different kingdoms in one! Now, cyanobacteria plays the important role of nitrogen fixation. That is, it takes atmospheric, biologically useless nitrogen and converts it into useful nitrogen fertilizer. Would you believe this lettuce lung is one of the number one nitrogen contributors to an old growth forest? And it only grows in the largest, oldest, and tallest of trees. That’s amazing! Aside from fixing nitrogen, lichen have many other important uses. Some have been used traditionally in the manufacture of natural dyes and perfumes. Some of our wildlife here in the park such as deer and elk are known to graze on lichen. Some species, like this in the Usnea genus, have antibiotic properties. Due to their spongy makeup, lichen do a really good job of absorbing toxic air pollutants. This makes them excellent indicators of environmental health. That is, they help us measure the quality of the air we all breathe. And might I say… The air in this old growth forest… (inhale) …is excellent. There are many different kinds of lichen and you will find them growing in a lot of different places, like on the bark of living trees… such as this Cladonia lichen. You can also find lichen growing on logs… branches and twigs… rocks… and even the forest floor. So remember, the next time you are visiting this International Biosphere Reserve, visiting some of the tallest trees on the planet… feeling kind of small… Take the time to get smaller. Explore lichens. You could discover a whole new world!

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Ranger Steve reveals the amazing, colorful and important world of lichen. Thanks to them, we all can breathe a bit easier.