Lichens on Stone Walls in Darwen, Lancashire

Silvery bronze lichens on a dry stone wall in Darwen, Lancashire

Over the last few months I’ve been paying attention to lichens. The trouble is, the more closely you look, the more questions arise.

Stone wall covered in lichens

After a while the boundary between stone and lichen seems to blur. Are some of these decorative patterns the stone itself, or are they all lichens?

Lichen with leaf-like structures
Inspiration for green men?

Something rich is going on that we rarely pause to think about.

I found myself wondering why stone walls in some parts of Darwen have many lichens and others have none. Could the lichens have been imported together with the stones? But the wall looked old, and surely if our climate didn’t suit them, they would not be thriving.

Raised oval lichen with moss

Wikipedia taught me about the general types of lichens. There are ones that are shrubby, powdery, crusty, leafy (flat or with raised edges), and even some that look like hieroglyphics. It’s not clear cut as the types may overlap.

Powdery and crusty lichens
Powdery and crusty lichens

I wanted to know more and to be able to identify some of the more common lichens we have on Darwen’s dry stone walls.

Lichens with black

After discovering that an internet search for ‘lichens with black spots’ brings up adverts for patio cleaners, I turned to the library and snapped up Lichens by Oliver Gilbert, my sole choice.

It all turns out to be a bit more complicated than I’d hoped. Being a lichen is a lifestyle choice some types of fungus may adopt, very roughly analogous to living in a commune with one or more partners.

Yellow lichen alongside moss on a stone
Yellow lichen

We don’t have folk names for most lichens, and the terms used to describe them are not in common parlance.

Blue-grey lichen
Blue-grey lichen

Botanical names are based on the fungus, but a fungus that takes one form when it envelops partner A may also be able to partner with B, when it would take a different form. Even experts struggle to conclusively identify lichens without chemical tests.

Raised type of lichen
Raised type of lichen

To sort through the puzzle, Oliver Gilbert recommends carrying a lichenologist’s bag with a stout knife, observes that ‘some people are never seen with anything less than a 1.5kg club hammer’ and prudently suggests carrying a spare chisel ‘as they are easily mislaid’. It is normal to carry two or three reagents: potassium hydroxide solution and fresh bleach are essential; paraphenylenediamine is handy.

I can only hope lichenologists are not stopped and searched by the police.

A black and white picture in the book shows ten lichen fanciers, each with a canvas bag over their shoulder, observing with varying degrees of attention an old tree that does not appear to have any lichens on it.

Various lichens on a boulder in Darwen, Lancashire

I’m forced to conclude lichenology is not for me – the naming part at least. I’ll be calling them all Licheny Mclichenface.

But I will carry on admiring their subtle colours and patterns during local walks.

I learned some facts that will stay with me, for example, that lichens are some of the slowest growing things on earth, in extreme cases growing less than 3 mm (1/5 of an inch) in a century.

Flat, powdery lichens with hints of lilac, aqua, brown and yellow
Lichens with hints of lilac, aqua, brown and yellow

And that many patches of lichen we see are actually tiny gardens – a harmonious mixture of different lichens and mosses. Once I realised that, I seemed to see them with new eyes.

Lichen with raised black dots

Some are more formal like miniature Japanese gardens, while others are free and easy combinations like cottage gardens.

Garden of mosses and lichens
Garden of mosses and lichens

Lichens remind me I’m really not cut out for a proper, scholarly approach to plants. For those of you who who are, here’s another thought. How weird is it that some lichens are formed from three different kingdoms of life (perhaps four), all in one life form?

Lichens on stone in NW England

For any regular readers who have made it this far, I’m ending with a confession. All the while I was out taking pictures, I was looking for a hidden Mickey. I haven’t found one yet but it’s only a matter of time.

Until then, I’ll leave you with a bear and a pig, in lichen form…

Lichens like a bear's face

Lichen shaped like a pig's face

… and with a chance find that reminded me of the owl pellets Dad used to bring home to dissect for my sister and me when we were youngsters:

Tiny bones on a lichen covered stone
Tiny bones on a lichen-crusted stone wall

Shared for the Lens-Artists Challenge: Focusing On The Details.

61 Replies to “Lichens on Stone Walls in Darwen, Lancashire”

  1. Now that is what I call focussing on the details! Wonderful post about lichens which I love, but no bright yellow ones around your part of the country? I love those black dotty ones and the ring-worm ones. See I am no good at names either, and the thoughts of meeting a lichenologist armed to the hilt made me laugh!
    I once wrote a much briefer post (not that I am complaining as I find them fascinating) about lichens.

    1. I have taken so many pictures and thought a series of posts about lichens might be pushing it a bit, so best to put them out in one swoop. I do have some tree ones for another rainy day. I only noticed some small patches of lemon yellow ones but none of that super rich orange in your post, so far at least.

      1. Living on a limestone peninsula I wonder if the alkalinity of the stone has an affect on what lichen grows where.

  2. While I’m trying to recover from Licheny McLichenface, I will say that chances are slim to none that I would ever go in pursuit of lichens. Paraphenylenediamine? I admire the dedication of such learners, but I’d get awfully confused. It does seem as though there is something like hieroglyphics about them and I can’t help wondering what they’re trying to tell us.

    1. I don’t suppose the lichens could be attempting a version of Morse code? I wish I had found some of the hieroglyphics ones. I don’t think any of these are them.

      1. Morse code is a definite possibility, but I think some of those might qualify as some kind of hieroglyphic. Nothing so obvious as the bear and the pig, of course.

  3. Wow Susan – who knew there was so much to know?! Now THAT is what I call focusing on the details. Good for you for researching to add to your knowledge of the images. Some of them are quite beautiful – altho one wonders about you and your sister dissecting the owl pellets!!!

    1. I probably ought not to be encouraged to focus on the details ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t imagine Dad let us do any of the dissecting ourselves. He just wanted us to understand a bit of how nature works.

  4. Like you, I admire lichens all the time when I am out and about, but have never got into the naming and categorizing aspect. At my age, my retention is so poor, I doubt I will ever learn much more than that about them. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. An amazing array of lichens, Susan! Biology and geology are certainly complicated subjects. On our Ranger-led hikes in Yosemite, they would humorously share scientific tidbits like “fungus and algae got together on these rocks and took a lichen to each other.” Apparently I never forgot it and was reminded reading your details ๐Ÿ˜

  6. I love this lichens series. The details, shapes are fascinating and beautiful. They are beautifully captured.

    1. It is amazing how metallic looking some of them are, as if a jeweller has made them from silver or bronze leaf.

    1. Sorry, Licheny Mclichenface (bronzy yellow) is as far as I’m willing to go. And I wouldn’t carry a 1.5kg camera on my walks, never mind a tool set.

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