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Lichen: Five Fascinating Facts

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When planning a safari you are most likely interested in the Big 5 - lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard. While these and other large animals are wonderful to see, there is so much more to enjoy on South African safari at Kariega. The knowledgeable and experienced Kariega field guides will share information about the many animals, plants, birds and insects on the reserve. They may even show you one or two species of lichen and discuss some of the fascinating facts about this amazing plant. Ranger Joné collated a few lichen facts along with some photographs by ranger Daniel.

Kariega Lichen Plant

Lichen: Five Fascinating Facts

  1. There are approximately 20 000 different lichen species.
  2. Lichen is a combination of a fungi and an algae.
  3. Birds use lichen to camouflage their nests.
  4. Lichen can grow on rocks, tree trunks, leather, shells of living animals and even plastic.
  5. Ancient Egyptians used lichen to fill the body cavity of mummies.
Kariega Eastern Cape Lichen

Lichen: Three Main Types

There are three main types of lichen:

  • Foliose - with a leaf-like appearance.
  • Fruticose – highly branched, either hanging or standing up.
  • Crustose – that look like a crust that has formed on a surface.
Kariega Old Mans Beard

Diverse Uses of Lichen

  • Usnic acid is found in many lichen species and can be used as an anti-inflammatory.
  • Lichen are an acid-based indicator and show the pH of a substance, similar to litmus paper.
  • Lichen is also used as a bioindicator. They indicate the health of the environment.
  • A species called Old Man's Beard is used to start fires. The Bushmen also inhale the smoke to help get rid of a bad cough.

Did you learn anything new about lichen? Please share your comments about these fascinating plants.