Two Auctionable New Lichens

Here’s some background information on the two lichens recently loaned to the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) and The Land Conservancy (TLC) for public auction. If you’d like to learn more about lichens per se, please visit

(1) An Unnamed “Horsehair” Lichen (soon to be called “Bryoria kockiana”)

Funds raised from auctioning off the naming rights to this species will be used by the Ancient Forest Alliance to map and report on the remaining oldgrowth forests of Vancouver Island.

Bryoria kockiana in ed.
Bryoria kockiana in ed.

This elegant Bryoria ekes out its existence festooning the branches of conifers. It consists of long slender branches dark olive black and 10 to 15 cm long. Within Bryoria, B. kockiana belongs to the so-called B. implexa group, a diverse assemblage of closely related species with long, usually matte, evenly forking branches and a rich thallus chemistry. Not our species, however, which differs in having a distinctly shiny thallus and in lacking any lichen acids; though it does have the characteristic long, slender, evenly forking branches. Bryoria kockiana produces sexual fruiting bodies on occasion; but even so its primary mode of reproduction and dispersal is thallus fragmentation; that is, its branches get torn by storm winds and then carried away to new habitats. At present this handsome lichen is known only from the Clearwater Valley north of Kamloops, oldgrowth rainforests in the Hazelton-Kispiox area of north coastal British Columbia, and adjacent areas of coastal Alaska.

Bryoria has about 45 species worldwide, mostly restricted to arctic, boreal and cool-temperate regions. About 25 Bryoria species occur in western North America, making this a global hotspot for the genus. Bryoria provides critical winter food for Mountain Caribou, and is used as nesting material by Flying Squirrels. Native peoples in some parts of northwest North America also used Bryoria as the main ingredient in a sort of vegetarian pemmican (Wila) which provided a critical food source in time of famine.

I first encountered this lichen in the 1990s during fieldwork in the oldgrowth rainforests of the Kispiox Valley. I long suspected it was undescribed; but only when Saara Velmala, of Finland, sequenced it (and showed it belonged to the Bryoria implexa group) were my suspicions confirmed. Two years later, Saara, Leena Myllys (her thesis advisor) and I are preparing formally to describe it.

(2) An Unnamed “Crottle” Lichen (soon to be called “Parmelia sulymae”)

Funds raised from auctioning off the naming rights to this species will be used by the The Land Conservancy to create a much-needed wildlife corridor connecting summer and winter habitat for Grizzly Bear, Mountain Lion, Wolves and other species that make their home in Wells Gray Provincial Park.

Parmelia sulymae in ed.
Parmelia sulymae in ed.

Parmelia sulymae is a bright, perky “Crottle” lichen 4 to 7 cm across and restricted, so far as we know, to the twigs and small branches of trees. This is what’s called a “foliose” lichen, with thin papery lobes that somewhat resemble foliage. Examined through a hand lens, these lobes are seen to be white above and black and shiny below, with copious stubbly “rhizines” that attach it to the supporting branches. Peculiar to this species, these same rhizines extend outward from the lobe margins, giving the impression it’s hanging on for dear life. Look closely, and you’ll notice the upper surface bears small clusters of tiny granules, or “isidia”. Isidia are vegetative reproductive structures: the lichen’s hope for the future. When broken off (as by the feet of foraging birds), they may disperse to other branches nearby, and so grow out into new lichens in their own right. Each isidium contains not only the lichen’s fungal partner, but also its algal consort.

Parmelia is a mostly boreal to temperate genus consisting of about 60 species. Seventeen species occur in North America, 14 in western Canada.

Some Crottle Lichens have been used in Scotland in the dyeing of wool for socks and Harris tweed since the 16th century. They yield a reddish brown colour.

From the first time I saw this lichen, about five years ago, in the forests of the Clearwater Valley near my home (!!!), I suspected it must be an undescribed species. My hunch was recently confirmed by a team of lichen researchers from Spain. Ana Crespo, Pradeep Divakar, Mari Carmen Molina and Ana Millanes successfully sequenced its fungal partner, showing it to be unique within its genus.