Lichen are compound organisms. They’re communities of various species, needing each other to live as one.
The main body of the lichen is fungal, but rather than consuming some food source, the fungi partner with a photosynthesizing biont, either algae or cyanobacteria depending on the lichen species.
Recent research shows that lichen are even weirder than people thought, having at least three symbionts or more, including a second fungi. Yeast.
They can be strangely mesmeric with their little and often colorful complexities.
Right at home living on rocks or wood, they’re often right amongst heaps of moss or liverwort.
Mixed up like that, it might be easy to confuse them with plants.
But their colors and shapes give them away. Structure can vary greatly. Shrubby, leafy, crusty or powdery.
Lichen can be found all over the world, including Antarctica, as they resist extremes in conditions.
But they are awfully vulnerable to air pollution, making them obvious indicators of air quality.
Places with greater diversity of any life really but particularly lichen are probably healthier and less polluted.
I usually photograph fungi near my home in Cleveland, but I traveled to Appalachian Pennsylvania to find these beauties all on the same walk.
Not used to this kind of access to my lichen friends, it felt to me like some kind of wonderland!
Black jelly drops
Why are these iridescent sapphire cup fungi called black jelly drops?
The fruiting bodies of fungi can change as they mature.
They’re hardly noticeable when tiny and just peaking out from cracks in dead wood.
They’ll open into cups.
And can be quite pretty.�� Just look at that color!
They’ll soon flatten into disks
then darken to appear more like suction cups on tentacles than shining gems.
Their scaly, tan exteriors turn black and wrinkle into cones. Like little witch’s cauldrons.
At last, they look like woodland licorice jelly drops. What a transformation!