Lichens and Spring Snow

Cladonia cristatella or British Soldier Lichen

Cladonia cristatella or British Soldier Lichen

Just when we thought we were rounding the corner to spring, a bit of winter showed up. It snowed throughout the day yesterday, leaving behind an accumulation of about 6 inches. I have a terrible head cold…ugh…so spent most of the day indoors sniffling and sneezing….and spinning! Picture 2444
Just before the snow came I had been out gathering some more lichens for a dye bath. Lichens can be very slow growing, so I am very careful to only harvest varieties that are abundant. It really takes very little to create a dye bath, so my gathering is minuscule. With the Xanthoria, I collected a mere 1/4 of a cup to start the dye bath. Usnea or Old Man’s beard is another lichen I am trying out along with the Xanthoria parietina. I’ll set up a fermentation jar with the Usnea just like I did with the Xanthoria. It will also sit in a solution of ammonia and water for a couple of months. My hope is that by June I can use some of the liquid that has been fermenting in a natural dyeing class here at the studio. Lichens are such wonderful organisms to study. They are not just one organism but are formed by two, an algae and a fungus living together. There are three main types of lichens, Foliose, which is leaf-like. An example of this would be Lobaria pulmonaria or Lungwort. Crustose, which is flat and crusty. These are the type of lichens that are often found growing on rocks and lay very flat against the rock’s surface. Fructose are lichens which grow upright or may hang down. ( they also tend to be brighter in color). Cladonia cristatella or British Soldier Lichen are an example of a fructose lichen. I’ve taken a picture of the Cladonia that are growing on some rocks near the nursery. To me they are as beautiful as any plant we grow in the nursery. Many lichens have been used for medicinal purposes. Usnea is often tinctured and used as an immune booster. It is very helpful in combating strep or staph infections, or any ongoing chronic conditions that may result in compromising your immune system. I have tinctured Usnea by filling a mason jar with the lichen and covering it with 100 proof vodka. I place this in the pantry (a bit darker in there) and then strain it after about 8 weeks. Of course, labeling is very important, especially when one jar is set-up steeping for wool dyeing and the other made to help combat illness or infection . I really don’t want to confuse the two….a swig of Xanthoria fermenting in ammonia would not be good. Thankfully, the chemical reaction between the lichen and ammonia bath cause the fluid to turn a nice bright shade of pink. I also store them in completely different areas of the house. I’ll continue to keep you posted as the dye baths ferment…..and perhaps I’ll go put some Usnea tincture in my morning cup of tea.
Happy Spring to everyone! Picture 2467

9 comments on “Lichens and Spring Snow

    • Thank you , Melissa…hope you feel better as well, and I hope you have a good book to read! Really felt bad about missing you when I was last in Ireland….I surely want to meet up again. After all these shared words and thoughts and well wishes, getting to visit with you , your family, and the wonderful Aran islands was the highlight of my fall trip. Next time…for sure! Laying low myself right now, wanting badly to get over the sniffles, too much work ahead to be compromised! Happy Easter to you and yours as well. Denise

  1. I have become fascinated with lichens, moss, and fungi lately. They are so abundant and varied here, but I’m still woefully ignorant on identification. I love the idea of using lichens for dye. If I’m not too busy, I will try to fit in your natural dyeing workshop in June!

    • I think lichens can be difficult to classify, but I agree, they are amazing. Would love to have you at the dye class, I’ll post the dates when I have them thought out, probably at the end of June. Lichens will certainly be part of the class. Happy day to you!

  2. Good Morning, I always look forward to reading your blog. Is there any possibility that if I supply my credit card to you that you could e-mail me a gift certificate? Thank you, Elizabeth

    • Hi Elizabeth,
      Give us a call and let us know what you’d like for a gift certificate and we’d be happy to send one along. We do not have the credit card machine up and running yet this season, so until May we ask people to just send a check. let me know if this message arrives. And thank you for reading!

  3. I love the beauty of a lichen covered stone wall — particularly on a foggy day where the color of the lichens is alone in a blanket of white. So, right now I am building stone walls and wondering what can be done to propagate lichens. I understand and even appreciate the time required for covering the wall but all the more reason to get started.

    • Hi Gregory,
      I know very little about propagating lichens, but as you mentioned I am also aware of how slow growing they are . With the lichen I pictured, Cladonia cristatella, the thallus does not form until the plant is 4 years old…it is very slow growing. Also if I’m not mistaken, at least for most lichens, it is the fungal part of the organism that will produce spores for reproduction….in order, however, for new lichen to grow, the fungal part of the plant and the algae part of the plant need to disperse together.This can happen in a couple of different ways, and I imagine is specific to certain lichens. I would think if you have stones with lichens already present and you can carefully place them without disturbing their structure…nature will do its thing and more lichens will appear…overtime!
      Good luck…I love them as well and can certainly understand your wanting to have them spread across your rock walls!

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