Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Thursday's Guardian Country Diary explores the wonderful world of lichens that are the brightest objects on moorland in winter. Lichens like .....

...... this delightful Cladonia diversa (?), tipped with what looks like scarlet sealing wax. Those red tips are the apothecia, where microscopic flask-shaped asci shoot their fungal spores out into the breeze. To form another lichen they need to land close enough to the correct alga for the two to form a symbiotic union and develop into a lichen.

This is the moorland described in the Country Diary - a high, windswept path over Birkside Fell above Blanchland, in the Derwent valley on the Durham-Northumberland border. The high rainfall means that nutrients are rapidly leached out of the sandy soil. The area to the right is grouse moor, which from a distance seems like is a sea of dull brown vegetation, until .....

.... you look at what is going on at grouse-eye level, under the canopy of gorse bushes. There, at this time of year, the lichens are at their best and the mosses are actively growing too.

There's a wide range of lichen form and colour. I think this is Cladonia macilenta (?)

..... this looks like Peltigera lactucifolia (?)

.... and this, looking like a forest of tiny golf tees, is Cladonia pyxidata (?)

N.B. the (?) after the specific names mean that these are tentative IDs - I need to check them more carefully to be certain!