Sunday, 30 May 2010

I Like Lichen

I have always found lichen to be interesting although I have never spent much time finding out about them, so I was pleased to find that lichens were the subject of the first activity of the Open University short course that I am doing. There are many interesting facts but here are a couple:
  • Although looking like one organism, lichen is made up of two interdependent organisms. The main part is a fungus and within the fungus there is either photosynthetic algae or cyanobacteria. The fungus protects and stops the algae drying out while absorbing the products of the algae's photosynthesis.
  • In 2005 the European Space Agency exposed 2 different types of lichen to open space for 15 days and despite being exposed to the vacuum of space, cosmic radiation, full spectrum uv light and intense temperatures, the lichens survived and on return to earth were still able to photosynthesise.

In my garden we have a lot of trouble with a vast amount of lichen colonising on our apple tree. I have yet to find out if the lichen are causing branches to die off or if a dying branch just provides a more attractive habitat for the lichen but as you can see from this photo, some branches are covered in it and not looking too healthy.

While I have been wandering around my garden looking for different types of lichen I have also come across some bugs which I haven't seen before. The first was a Roesel's Bush-cricket but unfortunately he hopped off before I could take his photograph. The second bug, which was crawling around the cornflowers, was more obliging (just) and thanks to the Natural History Museum's bug forum, I have found out it is a Agapanthia Villosoviridescens. Apparently the larvae live in the storks of thistles so no doubt another benefit of adjoining a field of weeds that like to spread their seeds and other bits into our garden (one has to try and find positives:-) Anyway, rather a cute beetle with very striking antennae.

Besides searching for lichen, my husband and I have been busy cutting down some of the Hawthorn which is re-growing in the pony sssi area, as it is reducing the grazing area and shading out some of the wildflowers. Although it is a very scratchy job it is also enjoyable as the ponies come over to keep an eye on us and investigate our belongings...Rufus even managed to pick up my water bottle and give it a good shake...wish I had my camera ready as it looked very funny. There is also plenty of interesting wildlife like a Grizzled Skipper, loads of Twayblade and this newly emerged Man Orchid although this picture doesn't really show it properly.

There were also a few interesting passers by who stopped for a chat. One person was a riding instructor that taught me to ride when I was about 9 yrs old and another was an incredibly knowledgeable reptile expert. He was very interested to know where I had seen the common lizard last week and logged it in his GPS. He also told be about the best places for putting down refuges for the reptiles and said he will drop some off for us, along with some more information on reptiles. He was the sort of chap that one could learn so much from and it was such a pleasure to meet him.


Emma Anderson said...

It's good to find someone else interested in lichens. I've also beeing looking more closely at lichen recently. I'd be interested to know which OU course you are currently studying as I was thinking of enrolling for a short course.

Helen said...

Hi Emma...The OU course I am doing is S159 Neighbourhood Nature. It is not too demanding, about 100 hours of study which you can choose to spread over either 8 weeks or 26 weeks. As I have only just started with the first activity I can't say how useful it will be but so far so good as it has made get round to really finding out about lichen which I've been intending to do for years:-) Helen

Emma Anderson said...

Thanks, Helen. My friend works for the OU and he recommended the same course to me. I would probably prefer to spread it over the longer period. Good luck.

Lesley said...

Sounds like you had a lovely day Helen. Your Open University course sounds really interesting. I study with them as well and find the materials and presentation of their courses excellent.

Helen said...

Hi Lesley, yes it was a lovely day but then I find any days spent with horses are lovely days...not sure my husband feels quite the same way though. I just can't convince him that he would like to go riding again:-)