May I introduce.. Usnea Lichen?
It’s a plant… ? It’s an animal… ? This beautiful and mysterious structure is classified by a fungal partner, so it’s actually a combination of an algae and a fungus. The fungus provides a structure for the algae to live in, while the algae provides food for the fungus. And of course a fungus is not a plant, because it can’t make its own food through photosynthesis and the sun. But neither is it an animal because it can’t ingest its food like an animal. Fungi are neither plants nor animals, but form their own kingdom of life.
So lichens are a complex life form that is a symbiotic partnership of the two separate organisms, a fungus and an alga.
Found often in moist cool forests, Usnea can be used as an bioindicator because it tends to grow only in regions of good air quality. It’s a valuable addition to herbal treatments for sore throats and skin infections, is effective for wound healing, and combats a bacterium that commonly causes pneumonia.
Usnea provides forage, shelter and building materials for our watershed animals. As a lichen, it can provide a mode of survival in places that algae might not otherwise survive – which allows algae to do their job of converting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
It’s a beautiful, mysterious, and integral part of our watershed, and a reminder of how lucky we are to enjoy the incredible quality of air in the Umpqua.