By Michelle Schmidt
Larry Lass isn’t like most people. He notices lichen. In fact, he has noticed it for the past 40 years, ever since taking a class on the subject. As a lichen hobbyist, he’ll be acquainting the public with this common-yet-odd little organism at a talk Thursday, Feb. 13, though the White Pine Chapter of the Idaho Native Plant Society.
Lichen is the product of a partnership between fungus and algae. That’s right: Each species of lichen is the result of a union between a species of fungus and a species of algae. Various combinations of fungus and algae produce various types of lichen. But, according to Lass, these two components can’t be separated except in a lab.
This partnership results in an organism that is incredibly resilient. Algae is photosynthetic, which means it “feeds” off light. Fungus can’t do that. But what fungus can do is hold moisture, and that’s something algae needs in order to survive. So with algae providing food and fungus providing protection, lichens can grow just about anywhere.
“They’re pretty tough,” said Lass. “They work well as a team.”
He described lichens he’s found in the deserts of Idaho, all the way up to the top of Mt. Borah. They grow on rocks and fence posts and forest trees. They can survive where it’s hot and where it’s cold, where it’s wet and where it’s dry.
“There’s no root system keeping that thing alive,” said Lass. “Its survival is all based on the fungus’ ability to retain moisture.”
Lass will be introducing the properties and uses of local lichen during his talk. He’ll also provide an introduction to the online lichen identification key he developed in partnership with the University of Georgia. The key includes all species of lichen in Idaho and neighboring areas. By selecting the structure, color and habitat of a lichen, a narrow list of possibilities is produced so users can quickly identify lichen.
Schmidt may be contacted at email@example.com or at (208) 305-4578.
If you go
What: Guide to Identifying Lichens in Idaho and Surrounding Areas
When: Thursday, February 13 at 7 p.m.
Where: 1912 Center Great Room at 412 E. Third St. in Moscow