Lichen is Beautiful
When a glacier retreats, a lot of new earth — mostly rocks — become exposed, starting up a process in which plant life moves in on true virgin land. But most plants don’t grow on rocks, so something has to “break down” the rocks to make them more hospitable. Leading the invasion of plant life is lichen.
Alaska has a lot of new land — it has only recently begun to shed its icy gown. Many fjords are very new in geological time, and you’d find glaciers at their ends spitting ice into the water. A journey on a boat into such a fjord is to travel back in time, backwards through the process that transforms bare rocks into forests. At the end of an Alaskan fjord, near the icy lip of a glacier where the land is new, you’d find lichen. The pioneer of plants.
Lichen has simple needs: just stone and the sun. Biologically, lichen is actually two species, a fungus and an algae, living together in perfect symbiosis. So close are the two life forms that their cells are merged together. The algae produces nutrients from the sun, while the fungus provides the bulk and structure for spreading, and for capturing water. Lichen thrives in the arctic because it is incredibly hardy: it can be completely dried up, but unlike the fish in our wood shed, it’d spring to life when water comes again.
Here’re a few pictures of lichen on Rødøy: