Winter Beauty

Thursday, November 30th, 1:00pm

Even though in the winter we do not have many flowers to look at, lichens and mosses fill that gap with their unique and fantastic forms.

This week my attention was on a few plant forms that really stand out after the rains start, and the leaves fall off the trees. These are the lichens and mosses. They are not in the same family of plants, even though many people confuse them as the same. Lichens are a symbiotic relationship between a fungi and certain species of algae. They come in many colors, but in the Willits Valley, it is the gray green or sage green colored plants hanging down from the bark and the branches on our deciduous trees, such as oaks, maples, and the ash, that one notices. There are many species of lichens which can be distinguished by looking at them closely. The long hanging ones, are either a Usnea species or Ramalina menziesii (net lichen) and then there are many shorter more leafy looking ones, like the Evernia species.

When lichens are abundant, as they are in this beautiful valley it is a sign that the air is fairly clean, for they are highly sensitive to toxins in the air. If looked at with a hand lens or close-up binocular, they look like magical underwater corals. As I look out at the ash and oak riparian areas I am struck with the amount of lichens covering them but then I also see the dark, bright green of the mosses growing with them. Mosses are in the Bryophyte group with liverworts and hornworts. They differ from lichens by having green leaves, though they are quite tiny. Both lichens and mosses are often in the same habitats which is why you can see them together in my photographs. One moss in particular stands out in the ash trees because it grows in rounded clumps Orthotrichum lyellii, one of the largest in its’ genus.The green and gray-green of mosses and lichens are made brilliant by the fog and rain of winter clothing the trees in a luxurious velvet cloak.


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