Lichens are incredible beings, as far as I’m concerned, and some of the most misunderstood and overlooked as well. I appreciate their complexity and tenacity, and I also think they’re pretty, too! I’m very lucky that there’s a lot of lichen diversity where I live; I am in a place with several microbiomes, and so it’s neat seeing which species I find in each. Plus it’s a good sign that the air here is clean, too.

I do have to say that as a citizen-level naturalist rather than a lichenologist, I sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed by how some lichens are so similar that you basically need a microscope to tell two species apart. I once went out into the woods with my copy of Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest, intent on identifying all the lichens I found, and while I was able to nail down some, there were others that I just wasn’t able to get a species-level ID on. (And then I uploaded pictures to iNaturalist and let the experts tell me what I was missing!)

Admittedly, if I had infinite amounts of time and money and could go back to school (again), I’d strongly consider mycology with an emphasis on lichenology. But then again I’m also tempted by the bryophyte end of the botany pool. And marine biology is pretty neat, too. Also restoration ecology…you know, maybe it’s better that I just opted to be a Master Naturalist. I don’t have to choose a specialty, and it didn’t cost nearly as much!

Species portrayed: Questionable rock-frog (Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia), old man’s beard (Usnea spp.), red alder (Alnus rubra), pixie cup lichen (Cladonia asahinae), reindeer moss (Cladonia rangiferina), caribou (Rangifer tarandus), hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata), oakmoss (Evernia prunastri), assorted microlichens