likin’ lichen: lobaria oregana

Lichen doesn’t do much to get people’s heart started. They don’t do marketing, they don’t do advertising, they don’t do networking but christ Lobaria Oregana does a super cool thing. What they do is provide for the basic continuation of their species by dying and rotting. It sounds odd doesn’t it?

Here’s how it works. Lobaria Oregana is sometimes called lettuce lichen because of its crinkly leaf shape, it looks a bit like the iceberg lettuce you find in the dead end of the crisper, and what it does is absorb shitloads of nitrogen from the air (not carbon dioxide) and grow really slowly in the canopies of really tall tree like Redwoods and Douglas Fir. Saying that Lobaria Oregana absorbs nitrogen from the air makes it sound really simple but it is, in fact, an incredibly special thing. Most plants get nitrogen from the soil and it is the key fertiliser for growth. Think about all that ammonium nitrate that gets laid on cropfields before sowing, it is the same deal. Lobaria Oregana can’t get to the soil because it lives in the canopy and so it fertilises itself from the air.

That’s not the end of it though; it is just the first clever trick.  Lobaria Oregana are lichen, fragile little plants, and they tend to break off and fall to the ground especially when old or in damaging weather. When they fall to the ground they do so in a forest. Forests are very nitrogen poor soil environments, all those enormous trees draw up tonnes of nitrogen per year and leave precious little behind. Plus because trees don’t die in the short term nitrogen isn’t replaced by decaying organic matter regularly. Without that nitrogen the trees won’t grow. Lobaria Oregana need the trees to have nitrogen because they need to be up high, in the canopy, so they provide it themselves by dying and falling to the foot of the tree for decomposition.

Simply put Lobaria Oregana is the only source of nitrogen in some of the big Redwood and Fir forests and they provide for the sustenance of their environment by fertilising the trees in which they reside. Without dead Lobaria Oregana there are no trees, without dead Lobaria Oregana there is no Lobaria Oregana.

Isn’t the world just ace?


About rustichello

A rather too quiet fellow of little reknown.
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