Lichens and mosses: Simple plants

Every lichen is a partnership between members of two different kingdoms which live together in a special, mutually beneficial relationship. This is called a symbiosis.

Steve Tapia
Posted 5/11/13

Seeps, springs and bogs — An oasis in a dry mountainside

What are lichens? Lichens are “dual organisms.”

Every lichen is a partnership between members of two different kingdoms which live together in a special, mutually beneficial …

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Lichens and mosses: Simple plants

Every lichen is a partnership between members of two different kingdoms which live together in a special, mutually beneficial relationship. This is called a symbiosis.

Posted

Seeps, springs and bogs — An oasis in a dry mountainside

What are lichens? Lichens are “dual organisms.”

Every lichen is a partnership between members of two different kingdoms which live together in a special, mutually beneficial relationship. This is called a symbiosis.

Each lichen is made up of a fungus and algae (green or blue-green). Mycology publications (mycology is the study of lichens), describes almost 20,000 different lichens.

The fungus protects the algae from the harsh world outside, and provides it with water and mineral nutrients. The algae makes its own food by photosynthesis, and leaks some of this food, which is then absorbed by the fungus (which cannot make its own food).

This partnership is so tough and self-reliant that lichens can grow in places like bare rock in deserts, or in this case, bare rock in a rock shelter at about 8,200 feet elevation

When it is too dry, too hot, or too cold, lichens go into a state of suspended animation until conditions improve. Since algae make up only about 5 percent of each lichen, and algae are out of action for much of the time, you can imagine that lichens grow very slowly  — only a few millimeters per year. Those who know me would compare it to my facial hair!

The lichens make up for this by living for centuries, or in a few cases, even millennia.

Now let’s talk about other simple plants, for example moss. Mosses are a botanical division (phylum) of small, soft plants that are typically 0.4 to 4.0 inches tall, and commonly grow close together in clumps or mats in damp shady locations. The “ice cave” in Taos Canyon is a good example.

They do not have flowers or seeds, but reproduce using spores. Most mosses rely on wind to disperse the spores. In the genus Sphagnum, the spores are projected by compressed air and the spores are accelerated to about 36,000 times the earth’s gravitational pull. Again, ain’t nature grand!

In many mosses green vegetation can break off and form new plants without the need to go through the cycle of fertilization. This is a means of asexual reproduction, and the genetically identical plants can lead to the formulation of clonal populations.

Since mosses have no vascular system to transport water through the plant or waterproofing systems to prevent water from evaporating, they usually prefer a damp environment in which to grow and a surrounding of liquid water to reproduce. I said it once I’ll say it again … ain’t nature grand!

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