What does the lichen say?

18 January, 2015                 What does the lichen say?

“The eye often cannot see what the mind does not already know.” – Stephen Sharnoff

I began my “Every living thing” quest late last year. And this week it led to lichens. Which I would not have predicted. If my quest has only taught me one great thing (it’s really taught me a bunch) it’s that I walk past an amazing amount of “stuff” every day – and I’m not even aware it exists. And the more I become aware of, the more I become aware of. That sounds like a tautology (tautology n. pl. tautologies 1. a. Needless repetition of the same sense in different words; redundancy. b. An instance of such repetition. – The Essential American Heritage Dictionary – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2011) but I am uncertain how to phrase it more succinctly. More noticing leads to more noticing. As I searched for more “living things” I began noticing mosses and lichens. And reading about them. They are everywhere you turn. And they’re unusual.

Mr. Sharnoff (see quote at top of page) also wrote “Lichens are the most overlooked of the conspicuous organisms in the natural landscape.”

The title of this post is a riff on a song Evie made me aware of this week. It’s a comedy/dance song from 2013 (I’m always on the cutting edge) called “What Does the Fox Say?” by Ylvis. I think (I’m not positive) it’s a little quip about the fact that foxes don’t say much. Watch it here if you have the interest and a spare 3 minutes and 45 seconds: Ylvis – The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?)

The implication (for me) is that foxes fly under the radar and mostly go unnoticed. The same is true for lichen. I mean, seriously, lichen. They’re all over the place all the time but we (I) don’t even notice them. They’re out there but they are certainly in the background. 

I’ve written far too much and not posted picture one – time to correct that. My friend Ethan took a terrific picture of a Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) at Bryan Park last week:

Red-tail hawk - Bryan Park - Richmond, VA - photo by ETHAN!

Red-tail hawk – Bryan Park – Richmond, VA – photo by ETHAN!

Not only did Ethan take that photograph – he was the one who spotted the hawk in the first place! He has very sharp eyes. 

If Ethan’s name sounds familiar related to photography on this blog, it’s because he’s been here before. He took the best picture of a Northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon) that I’ve ever seen. Look at it here if you’re interested; it’s an amazing photograph: Guest photographer

With the exception of Ethan’s great “catch” at Bryan Park, I don’t have a lot of attractive pictures this week. I am just getting into mosses and lichen. Evelyn and Mackey and Turner and I went to Pony Pasture yesterday afternoon because rain was predicted to wash out our traditional Sunday morning hike (it did). I haven’t identified any lichen or moss yet, but I will. Let me put up a couple of the pictures I got yesterday. Here’s a lichen on a rock just at the edge of the river:

Currently and unidentified lichen. But in time I'll know what it is.

Currently and unidentified lichen. But in time I’ll know what it is.

And here is a similar appearing lichen on a tree: 

Lichen on tree bark at Pony Pasture

Lichen on tree bark at Pony Pasture

Here’s a glowing moss from the side of a tree on the eastern edge of Pony Pasture: 

Glowing moss. That's so pretty.

Glowing moss. That’s so pretty.

This pursuit is also expanding my vocabulary. Did you know that mosses are called “bryophytes“? I picked up that treasure while researching this blog post. I’m not sure how soon I’ll be able to work it into a conversation but it’s a fun word. 

I’m beginning to see more Ring-necked ducks (Aythya collaris) as winter sets in a bit more enthusiastically. This photograph is far from award-winning, but you can easily identify a male (with the yellow eye) and female Ring-neck: 

Male and female Ring-necked duck, James River, Richmond, VA

Male and female Ring-necked duck, James River, Richmond, VA

That’s about all for this week’s relatively thin main section. I have spent a lot of time this week compiling information for my “Every living thing” section. There’s a new link at the top of this page. My friend Betsy really gave me a lot of information. Look below for more information on the “Every living thing” page – it’s coming along great and I’m happy about it. I hope you are too! Meanwhile, until next week,

All best, 


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My “Every living thing” page more than tripled in size this week. My friend Betsy ID’d an amazing nineteen plants for me. Evelyn has been a huge help, as have my friend Kim and my sister Katie. Kim and Katie, be forewarned. This week has been mainly plants (flora), which Betsy specifically offered to help with. In the near future my pursuit will turn to living things that are not plants (fauna) and I’ll be turning to you for assistance. Anyone else who has anything to offer, please let me know. There is a comments section at the end of each blog post. I read it regularly. Or email me.

I started the project on December 7, 2014 with a total of 27 combined flora and fauna. As of this post, the “Pony Pasture Flora” page has 42 species and the “Pony Pasture Fauna” page has 44 species. 86 total as of today. Those numbers will grow each week. For a while. 

My intention for this is to be a reliable guide that anyone can refer to. Please look it over when you have a few minutes. Please offer any corrections you’re aware of. And offer suggestions that may increase the usability. I’m making this up as I go along, and I need lots of help.

Here are links to the two pages – check them out when you have a moment:

Pony Pasture Flora

Pony Pasture Fauna

Each page has two columns. The left hand column has the “common name” of each plant or animal. The “common name” is a link to a blog post where I’ve taken a picture of that living thing.

The right hand column has the “scientific name” of each plant or animal. The “scientific name” is a link to a reputable source of scientific information about that living thing. None of the links are to wikipedia. Not that there’s anything wrong with wikipedia. 


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About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
This entry was posted in Birds, Flowers, Fun, Insects, James River, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Spiders, squirrels and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What does the lichen say?

  1. Heath says:

    Bryophytes are actually the family that includes moss, hornworts and liverworts. Bryophytes are awesome. Lichens are awesome.

    • The original title for this post was “Bryophytes – who even knew?” See the glowing moss picture and the paragraph directly following? But while I was researching I got onto “lichen.com” and ran across the quote that I opened this post with: “The eye often cannot see what the mind does not already know.” And that so neatly summed up my experience – what the lichen was saying – that I just had to include it. I got a superb field guide called “Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians.” I’m hoping at some point in the next few posts to actually get a positive ID on a few mosses and lichens. I even bought a jeweler’s loupe to get a better look at the mosses! A.k.a. bryophytes! Lichens are very, very peculiar. They’re as much a relationship between organisms as they are organisms themselves. Fascinating stuff.

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