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British Soldier lichens

This is jack pine country. The Grayling sands of Michigan's northern lower peninsula harbor large stands of the gnarly black-trunked pine, and at this locale there are hundreds and hundreds of acres of Pinus banksiana between five and twenty years of age. Such a habitat interests birders greatly, as this is the home of one of the rarest of the rare, the Kirtland's warbler, Setophaga kirtlandii.

I always come here when leading my mid to late May field trips that launch from NettieBay Lodge. Everyone revels in the ambiance of the wide open spaces filled with stunted pines and overtopped by Big Sky. The rich reverb song of the "jack pine warbler" rings out, and many other avian musicians contribute to the soundscape. The guttural croaks of common ravens. Ethereal whistles created by courting upland sandpipers drift down from the ether. The lovely flutelike melodies of hermit thrushes - yes, they breed in this stuff! - issue from the pines. Sparrows cannot be missed: song, vesper, field, clay-colored, Lincoln's, chipping, and from older tracts of pines, white-throated sparrows whistle their mournful tunes.

Not a bad place to be, if you are into birds.

There is far more than birds in the jack pine plains, though. Last year I had noticed stump after stump that was liberally encrusted with one of our showiest lichens, and I resolved to photograph them this year.

This is about a lush a display of British soldier lichen as a lichenologist could ever ask for. I am decidedly NOT a lichenologist, but that in no way dims my admiration of this scarlet-topped combo of an alga and a fungus.

I believe this species is Cladonia cristatella, but don't hit me with a bat if I'm mistaken. There are, I think, some other Cladonia lichens that appear quite similar. No matter what you call it, this lichen is a certified showstopper, and it was a treat to see stump after stump capped with the stuff.

Lichens are composites of two separate organisms - an alga (or cyanobacteria) and a fungus. Collectively they join in a mutualistic relationship and live together as one. The lichen's name is derived from the fungal species, which in this case (if I am correct with the identification) is Cladonia cristatella. The algal component is Trebouxia erici. The common name stems from the brilliant red fruiting bodies, or apothecia, which resemble the red caps that British troops wore during the American Revolution.

Not too many lichens can lay claim to this level of showiness.


Sue said…
I've seen these, but didn't know what they were. Interesting!!
I learn a lot here.

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