Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Golden Wall

Thursday's Guardian Country Diary is about this remarkable 'golden' wall at Hexham, in Northumberland's Tyne valley. It's a retaining wall beside the main Carlisle to Newcastle railway line, that crosses the Tyne just beyond that bridge in the distance and passes this point at head height.

The golden covering is caused by an alga called Trentepohlia aurea.

It spends the drier months of the year as a  powdery deposit on rocks and tree trunks but when it's wet the alga grows into a forest of minute filaments, forming a dense mat on the surface.

You can see the filaments in this close-up, grouped together to form golden cushions that are a few millimetres in diameter. This wall is constantly wet, due to water percolating through from the railway track bed, so conditions are near-perfect for the growth of the alga.

When the tufts coalesce into a golden carpet they provides a very striking back-drop for other plants that are colonising the wall, like this ivy and .....

The liverwort Conocephalum conicum, also known as snakewort. Its surface is divided into small polygons, each with an air pore at its centre, giving it a resemblance to green snakes' skin.

There are other liverworts on the wetter sections of the wall, including this one which I think is Pellia endiviifolia.

The crevices are home to mosses and this little fern with leathery fronds - wall rue Asplenium ruta-muraria.

The alga seems to thrive particularly well on the cement but there are patches of lichen on some of the stones. A close look at this one revealed ....

.... these fungal fruiting bodies, which look like tiny pink toadstools. I think this is a species in the genus Baeomyces.

Another lichen, this time .....

... with fruiting bodies (apothecia)  that look like minute disks of liquorice. A species of Lecidea?

This lichen is a Cladonia species, probably C. fimbriata

Lichens are formed by the symbiotic association between a fungus and an alga and it's very likely that the algal symbiont of some of the lichens on this wall is Trentepohlia

Back now for a closer look at the alga Trentepohlia, this time under the microscope.

Under low magnification (c. x40) with a stereo-microscope you can see the forest of algal filaments that make up those orange cushions, while ....

....... here, under a compound microscope (x100) you can see the cells that make up the filaments, and .....

.... at a higher magnification still (c. x400) you can see the granular, pigmented contents of the cells.

There are animals living in the crevices in this wall, including the fearsome snake-back spider - but that's another story.


  1. What a rich variety of life - I must find my magnifying glass, and some walls!

  2. Replies
    1. ........nature transforms something mundane into something rather special

  3. Fabulous post, so interesting. We live in the Tyne valley but have never seen this!

    1. ........ Thanks! Tends to be most conspicuous at this time of year.

  4. WOW what a wall, would love to see this....
    Amanda xx