Lessons From Lichens

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“By stripping off the bonds of individuality the lichens have produced a world-conquering union. They cover nearly ten percent of the land’s surface, especially in the treeless far north, where winter reigns for most of the year. Even in a tree-filled mandala in Tennessee, every rock, trunk, and twig is crusted with lichen”. David Haskell in his book “The Forest Unseen” 

Lichens are both very beautiful patterns in Nature as well as living demonstrations of the importance of connections in Nature. A lichen is composed of at least two different but connected organisms – a fungus and a colony of microscopic green algae or cyanobacteria (“blue-green” algae). The fungus supplies a root structure, the lichen shape, and reproductive structures. The fungus is also able to find, soak up, and retain water and nutrients. The algae or bacterial cells provide carbohydrates to the combined organism through photosynthesis – something a fungus cannot do. In effect, the fungus is fed by the algal partner. The algae partners in lichens cannot live outside their host, nor can the host live without its algae. It is their connection to each other and to their environment that permits each composite organism to survive and to thrive.

Lichens are true environmental survivors. During droughts, they dry and become dormant. But once water is available, they rapidly absorb water and spring back to life.  According to Wikipedia, lichens are found “.. on leaves and branches in rain forests and temperate woodland, on bare rock, including walls and gravestones, and on exposed soil surfaces. Lichens must compete with plants for access to sunlight, but because of their small size and slow growth, they thrive in places where higher plants have difficulty growing. Lichens are often the first to settle in places lacking soil, constituting the sole vegetation in some extreme environments such as those found at high mountain elevations and at high latitudes. Some survive in the tough conditions of deserts, and others on frozen soil of the Arctic regions.”

Lichens are enormously successful worldwide because of the essential interconnections between their composite organisms. The lichen is a fascinating example of how connections in Nature result in an organism that is greater than the sum of its parts. This synergy is key to how Nature functions.

David Haskell notes that

“We are lichens on a grand scale.”

The organs in your body are dependent on each other. Your cells connect to sources of energy through your blood stream. Your blood stream interconnects with your lungs and stomach to receive oxygen and food from your environment while expelling waste products. Indeed, you are a highly complex interconnected super-organism.  The same idea of interconnectivity that permits a lichen to exist also is important to your very existence and survival.

Both the lichen and our human bodies are indeed parts of Nature because we are physically connected with Nature in many ways. Our very survival requires that we recognize, respect, and preserve that interconnectivity in all of Nature. 

You may view more of my lichen images here.

For Your Further Consideration

  • Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms the energy necessary for all life to exist. The key to an active group of ecoliterate humans that results in a healthy environment for all life on earth is the building of a systems view of life into the minds and hearts of humanity – particularly our youth. This worldview (the “Living Earth Story”) is supported  by the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
  • Environmental educators,  their students, scientists, and all stewards of Nature  are a powerful progressive force that, through their knowledge about Nature, through the legacies that they create for the future, and through their informed actions are capable of overseeing the well-being of our home —  Mother Earth
  • Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must include the acts of passing a worldview of a Mother Earth on to Environmental education must be hands-on, and action-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of all of our youth.
  • This website offers a free PDF book entitled “Empowering Stewards of Nature – Lessons From The Web of Life”. The book offers education methodology and content for creating Nature’s “Living Earth Story” within our youth and all stewards of Nature.. To download this book, follow the instructions on the right side of the web-site when you click the photograph of the book. 
  • If you are interested in working with me, other environmental educators, and other stewards of Nature to build a legacy of young people who will embrace and evangelize the worldview that “Everything on Earth is Connected and Interdependent”, please provide your questions and comments in the space provided below or by contacting me at my Twitter account @ballenamar.


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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

5 thoughts on “Lessons From Lichens”

  1. hi
    i am tina
    i read this article . every Lichen has a special shape . they are different from eachother and they are unique , i mean their patterns and shapes . i want to know if every thing in nature is unique? or we have repeatted patterns in nature ? and if we have repeated patters , what patterns do we have ? structural or in shapes or in soul of them or in growth or … ?
    what can we learn from Lichens? we as human kind ? u mentioned we are connected to each other but does this really mean ? if you seprate one part of Lichens from the other parts what happens ?
    i have lots of questions …
    thanks mr. biill


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