What’s Not to Lichen?

I received a press release yesterday from two groups, the Forest Protectors and Extinction Rebellion Mi’kmaki/Nova Scotia, with the subject line, “DNRR [Department of Natural Resources and Renewables] Survey finds more rare lichens in Last Hope forest.”

The groups, as the CBC’s Michael Gorman reported this week, count about 50 members and have been protesting a proposed logging operation on Crown land in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley that “would see about a third of the trees removed from an approximately 24-hectare piece of land between Roxbury and Albany.”

According to the February 15 press release, the groups have opposed the cut since they first learned of it and Nova Scotia Forest Notes provides some history as to how that happened:

In June of 2020, the WestFor consortium proposed a shelterwood harvest on this parcel; it was subsequently approved by [Lands & Forests]. An Annapolis Co. resident, Randy Neily, who has a camp on private land in the area and has frequented the area since he was a youngster, became aware of the impending logging and raised concerns about it in the fall of 2021. Neily in fact had raised concerns about it 22 year[s] earlier

“Twenty-two years ago, I talked Bowater Mersey into leaving this patch of forest alone when they were cutting everything around. They left it because of its value to wildlife. Now WestFor wants to take it,” he said. –Cited in the National Observer, Dec 8, 2021

Neily went to Nina Newington of The Forest Protectors and Extinction Rebellion Mi’kmaki/Nova Scotia with his concerns, and on December 2 they “set up the ‘Last Hope Wildlife Corrider encampment,” where they remain to this day, taking turns actually camping out — here’s the photo Newington submitted to the CBC:

Protestors' camp in Beals Brook NS

Protesters’ camp near Beals Brook in Annapolis County (Photo via CBC)


Linda Pannozzo has published a great, detailed piece about the camp on her website.

The protestors want the government to halt the harvest and add the 80-year-old forest to the list of those to be protected under a forest management scheme proposed by Bill Lahey in his 2018 report to government.

They caught a break in January, when they were alerted to the possible existence of rare lichens at the site and contacted the DNRR which, according to Gorman, “put a pause on the harvest and sent in a lichenologist on Sunday to examine the site.” Newington told Gorman the lichenologist “told people camping at the site that his survey found frosted glass whisker lichen, black-foam lichen and wrinkled shingle lichen.”

Black foam and wrinkled single lichen were added to Nova Scotia’s Species at Risk list in 2017, both are considered “threatened,” while frosted glass whisker lichen has been listed by the federal government as a species of “special concern.”

Newington told the CBC she’s convinced that there are likely other rare lichens on the site but “weather conditions and the size of the area limited what could be observed during a single site visit.” She also suggested that the discovery of the endangered species highlighted “the inadequacy of the work Natural Resources officials seem to do before signing off on applications by companies to cut on Crown land.”


‘Treasured species’

Troy MacMullin (@TroyMcMullin), a research scientist with the Canadian Museum of Nature whose areas of expertise include lichenology, posted photos of the lichens in question on Twitter and I’m reproducing them because they’re really beautiful:



But strangely lovely as it is, lichen, of which there are apparently 18,000 species worldwide, is not important for aesthetic reasons, it performs a number of important roles in forest ecosystems; roles this video explains much more effectively than I could:



As former Nova Scotia Environment Minister Margaret Miller said, when adding black foam and wrinkled single lichen to the endangered species list:

These species are of significant conservation concern, and we will continue to work with the public, industry and all land stewards to protect them and their habitat. All of us can help protect these treasured species by becoming better informed, and by taking care when we are out in the forest, wetland or other habitat where they live.


National Lichen

I’ve stumbled across far more information about lichen than I can digest and incorporate organically into this article, so I’m just going to resort to listing some of it at the end, but first, I want to note that in 2020, the Canadian Museum of Nature sponsored a contest to choose a national lichen, a fact I learned from the Economist, of all places, which wrote:

The case for choosing a Canadian lichen is compelling. The country has more than 2,500 species of lichen, a composite of fungi and another element, algae or cyanobacteria (free-living photosynthetic bacteria). Only Russia has a comparable number. Inconspicuous on suburban tree trunks and driveways, lichens help prevent soil erosion and fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil. They provide winter food for caribou (reindeer).

Over 18,000 Canadians voted, choosing from a short-list of seven lichens compiled by researchers across the country and in May of 2020, the Museum announced the winner. Introducing Canada’s National Lichen, the star-tipped reindeer lichen (Cladonia stellaris):


Star-tipped reindeer lichen (Cladonia stellaris)

Star-tipped reindeer lichen, Cladonia stellaris. Photo via Twitter


MacMullin appeared on the CBC’s As It Happens to discuss the contest and there was also an official video announcing the winner, which is, as it turns out, one of those lichens that provide winter food to caribou:


I’m just bummed I didn’t get to vote — or organize a viewing party for the awards ceremony.



There’s a lichen at the heart of another Canadian logging protest, the one happening in Fairy Creek, British Columbia, where protesters are trying to save an old-growth forest. According to the National Observer:

One rare species, the Old Growth Specklebelly Lichen, discovered recently around Fairy Creek by artist and citizen scientist Natasha Lavdovsky, could hold keys to stopping the logging — and show us how nature creates wet zones that halt wildfires, protection from the worst ravages of climate change.


Old Growth Specklebelly Lichen

Old Growth Specklebelly Lichen, Pseudocyphellaria rainierensis (Source: Government of British Columbia)



There’s a British Lichen Society (of course there is) and it turns out Scotland is home to some rather brilliant examples of the species. The photo below is from the society’s co-chair for education, April Windle, who posted it to Twitter (@aprilwindle) in January with the caption:

Have you ever seen anything so perfect? Scottish #rainforests really are a world unto themselves. Here, a rich tapestry of #Lobarion species cloak a Salix trunk, with the biggest thallus of Collema fasciculare (octopus suckers) known to man! Crinan Canal, Argyll #lichens

Lichen in the Scottish rainforest

Today has been a voyage of discovery for me — I didn’t know Scotland had rainforest, but according to the National Trust for Scotland:

Scotland’s rainforest, also known as Atlantic woodland and Celtic rainforest, is a special kind of woodland, containing trees dripping with lichens and rocks clad with abundant mosses. These native woodlands are found on our west coast where there are high levels of rainfall and relatively mild, year-round temperatures. There are some wonderful examples of this unique habitat thriving at Balmacara.

And of course, at the same time I discover Scotland has rainforest I discover it’s endangered.


There are 15 lichens (and “allied fungi”) that are believed to occur only in Canada (all together now, readers of a certain age: “Only in Canada you say? Pity”) and they’ve been itemized in an article (behind a paywall) in the Winter 2021 edition of Evansia, a publication devoted to “North American bryophytest and lichens.” Bryophytes are mosses, liverworts and hornworts. I am going to be dangerous at my next cocktail party.


And finally, back in 2018, the Canadian Museum of Nature asked voters to choose their Top 10 Canadian Lichen Images of the year and the winner “by a landslide” was this image of Arctic mushroom scales (Lichenomphalia hudsoniana), courtesy, once again, of Troy McMullin’s Twitter account:


Arctic mushroom scales (Lichenomphalia hudsoniana)

Arctic mushroom scales (Lichenomphalia hudsoniana) via Twitter (@TroyMcMullin)