28 March 2013

28th March - a Little bit about Liking Lichen

Somewhat behind with the diary - usual excuse. Been busy.

I'd like to write a little bit about lichen. We have a lot of it on our trees in the orchard. The previous owners, Sue & Richard, told us this was nothing to worry about - but being curious I decided to find out for myself.

There are two ways to pronounce it - LiTchen or LiKE-en - both are correct.

Lichens are symbiotic organisms that grow on old trees. They do not feed on the trees like a parasite, merely grow ON them. It is a greenish grey moss-like cushion of growth on branches, which is harmless.

Listening to In The Potting Shed on the BBC Radio Devon's Sunday Morning gardening programme last week (24th March) I decided to use their invitation to text a question. I asked about our lichen.

To my surprise (and delight) my question was read out and the answer was very useful. Lichens tend to grow on old trees - so because old trees tend to die, the lichen is often blamed.

It thrives in the older trees, though, because of more cracks and breaks where it can anchor itself. The good thing about it - lichens only do well where the air is pollution free - which explains why I never saw any of it back in London, but it does well in our back garden here in Devon.

It's fascinating stuff to look at closely - a little microcosm of a world. It looks beautiful in the frost.

What a lot of people do not know, the author and artist Beatrix Potter, of Peter Rabbit fame, was also a naturalist and she made a scientific study of fungi and lichens. It took a full century for her work to be recognised, however, as the male-dominated Victorian age of science did not take her work seriously. She drew fungi  with a formidable exactness for detail and studied them through observation and experimentation.

Her uncle was a well-known chemist and he encouraged her studies. She was the first  person in England to confirm the notion that lichens consisted of two different organisms in a symbiotic relationship, an alga and a fungus, a theory also put forward by a Swiss botanist, Simon Schawendener.
Her papers were rejected though by the Victorian botanical establishment. To take an amateur woman seriously was unthinkable. She turned her skill of drawing to the more familiar paintings that we now know - her depictions of animals and the landscapes of the Lake District. It was not until 1967 that her work with fungi and lichens was realised.

Beatrix Potter outside her Cumbrian house,
Hill Top
Miss Potter was also involved with the setting up of the UK's National Trust. She bought many acres of land in the Lake District, farms mostly, which she gave to the Trust to manage as tenant farms - these still exist today, and it is thanks to her that much of the area and these Fell Farms have survived.

So I like to think that a little bit of my back garden is connected with this remarkably talented lady.

Wikipedia - Lichen
Wikipedia - Beatrix Potter

One other fact which might be of interest to my readers. In October 1066, the order went out for the English army to meet by the "hoary apple tree", obviously a well-known local landmark. 

Well the "hoary" would refer to the grey lichen that covered it.
Another link to my garden!


  1. A comment on Facebook from Gythe Snorriwif : "Tried to leave a comment on the blog, but I don't think it worked. What I said was that you can use lichen to dye wool, too."

    Thanks Gythe - didn't know that!

  2. Wonderful photos, really goes to show how beautiful the English countryside is!


Thank you for leaving a comment your interest is very much appreciated! It will be published as soon as possible - depending on whether I am at my computer or walking up the lane, or being chased by the goose or helping mend fences after the pony has broken through YET AGAIN.... :-)