I have been working on an article for this week's blog discussing the file types commonly used in our digital cameras. That article will be part of my "Basics of Digital Photography Series", but as often happens, I have become distracted by a different and more colorful project. So this week let's talk about Lichen.
I Love Projects
I have been working with a client who is looking for images to decorate a new ward in a nearby community hospital. I've collected a range of images focusing on our region, with the goal of presenting a calm and relaxed atmosphere. A number of the images have been accepted, but I was told that the architects are also looking for images of "Wheat and Lichen". The easy part was the Wheat - I have no Wheat! But Lichen is a different matter. New England is full of Lichen, its just that we tend to ignore this surprisingly resilient organism(s). I love a project, so let the Lichen hunt begin.
|Cemetery Wall, Putney Vermont|
|Luna's Blanket, Chesterfield, New Hampshire, 1875|
What is (are) Lichen
Consider for a moment the lowly Lichen. Lichen is not a plant or even a single organism. It is a symbiotic composite organism combining a fungus superstructure in which lives a photosynthetic algae or cyanobacteria. The fungus feeds on the sugars produced by the algae or bacteria, while providing a protective and anchoring structure. The fungal filaments also provide a conduit for moisture and nutrients to supply the photosynthetic process. The relationship works well. Lichen are resistant to cold and drought. They are often the first organisms to attach to freshly exposed rocks and they are believed to be among the oldest organisms on the planet. When looking at a small unassuming colony of Lichen, their antiquity may be hard to appreciate, but their size is deceiving. They are extremely slow growing, some species expanding at a rate of only 0.5 to 1.0 mm/year. A hundred year old Lichen could be less than four inches in diameter. Tread carefully!
Finding Lichen So, although they don't make great pets, Lichens are ubiquitous, amazing, and deserving of our attention. With my assignment in hand I went off to pad my Lichen collection. Happily Lichen are everywhere and they don't tend to run away when approached by an intruding camera lens. The obvious place to start is stone walls and I went to one of my favorite in Marlborough, New Hampshire. The wall boasts a great view of Mt Monadnock and both the wall and the border trees were encrusted with Lichen. The challenge comes from trying to find ways to capture these unassuming patches of color and texture in interesting ways
Although they are present throughout the year Lichens become especially attractive during the spring stick season as we await the coming explosion of green. When examined closely Lichens have interesting variations of soft pastel hues, but they don't boast the vibrant colors of a New England autumn or soulful eyes of a baby deer. Their attraction comes from texture and pattern, I was looking for interesting "Lichen landscapes" as the fungus interacted with the trees, rocks and other detritus of the forest. Strolling along-side the wall I found plenty to keep me busy. I started with close-ups of the Lichen's structure and then pulled back to include its immediate and more distant environment. Once my eyes snapped onto the subject, it was amazing how distractions fell away and I could give the remarkable organism its deserved attention.
|Lichen Often Shares the Natural Substrates with Moss|
|Homestead Stone, Chesterfield, NH|
I have enjoyed the opportunity to focus on the under-appreciated Lichens. I will never again disrespect these sturdy and resourceful natural survivors and I believe they would make beautiful and highly appropriate decorations for a hospital ward. They are another example of the endless variety of life which makes New England such a special place to live, photograph and heal.
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