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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mt. Young Lichens

Rain was forecasted for today, and while I heard some showers during the night, I woke up to dry skies with even a few hints of the sun peeking few, so I was drawn back outside. Since the clouds seemed to be parting I decided to walk up Mt. Young (also known more realistically as Young Hill - it's only 650 feet tall). The above photo is a view from a lookout just below the summit, looking over the northern most San Juan Islands towards the Canadian Gulf Islands.

For whatever reason there aren't a lot of birds on the Mt. Young Trail - mostly some chestnut-backed chickadees and the occassional call of a raven. On the top I was treated to an eye-level view of a soaring bald eagle, but on the trail I focused my sights lower and got back into hunting for lichens. You may remember my first lichen identifications based on an ID book I got for Christmas. Here are a few new (for me) species I was able to identify.

If you read my other post, you may recall that most lichens are easily identified by their genus, as many species designations are still unclear and taxonomies undefined. The above photo is of the genus Cladonia, and I'm pretty sure the species is Cladonia ochroclora. Cladonia is one of the largest Pacific Northwest lichen genera, characterized by two distinct parts: the small leaf-like scales of the squamules at the base and the erect stalk of the podentia. The podentia of many of the species have a cup-shaped apparatus at the top of the stalk, and my reason for concluding this is probably C. ochroclora is because there is only a very small indentation at the top.

Along a mossy hillside there were many specimens of this large, leafy lichen, and at the time I thought they were probably all the same species. On closer inspection of my photographs and after consultation with the field guide, there were probably at least a few different Peltigera species present in the area, like the one pictured above. While I'm not confident in my ability to analyze the microstructures to determine the different species, I was able to observe a common phenomena in this genus that is captured in the photo above. When wet, the lichen is a virbrant green color, but when parts of it dry out, it becomes a tan, drabbish green until moisture returns.

The final genus I identified is a member of Vulpicida. You would think such a bright, yellow-orange lichen would stand out on the forest floor, but it remains remarkably camoflaged primarily by being so small. All the specimens I've seen were loose on the ground, but they probably fell off of shrubs or the base of a tree because I don't think they grow on soil. While substrate is often a huge clue in identifying lichens, I'm sure of this identification because of the color. It is the only bright yellow genus of this morphology in the Pacific Northwest, and it attains its color (and received its name) for the poisonous pigment vulpinic acid. Examining a specimen under a hand lens reveals tiny, powdery soredia, which are asexual reproductive structures present on the surface of some lichens.


Anonymous said...

I'm totally impressed by your lichen identification--I find them really interesting, but I've always been too intimidated by their strangeness to try to ID them.

Also, could you recommend a bird book for the PNW and for someone like me who has very little experience with birding? I've got all these great birds in my backyard, and I'd like to know their names.

Thanks! Brook

Monika said...

Brook, thanks for commenting! I hope you are doing well. I'm giving lichens my best shot - but there are a lot I'm totally lost on. Who knows, some of my IDs could be off too....but there aren't many people who would be able to tell me so! Haha.

As for a good western bird book, I would recommend either The Sibley Field Guide to Western Birds of North America or The Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region. The first one is drawings, and the second is photographs, so depending on your preference. Let me know what birds you're seeing in your backyard!