Some Adirondack Lichens

During a recent visit to the Adirondacks, I couldn’t help but admire the lichens.  These diminutive vegetative creatures (a mix of fungus and algae or cyanobacteria) thrive in the boreal forests that cloak the high peaks.  Why lichens?  Once you learn to focus in on very small scale, you discover a world of beauty and mystery.  This idea was expressed by 13th century Zen Master Dogen using the metaphor of the moon reflected in a drop of dew (“there are mountains hidden in hiddenness”) and 600 years later in the opening stanza of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself:  “I lean and loafe at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass.”  Appreciate the small patterns of nature, and you will never suffer from a lack of beauty, which is why Henry David Thoreau wrote that the “lichenist fats where others starve….his provender never fails.”

With thanks to nature photographer John Franklin for helping me identify the species, here is a sampling of what I encountered:

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Lush clumps of gray reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina) growing on a sunny ledge about 2,000 feet up on the ridge leading to Rocky Peak.  When undisturbed, this lichen will spread across the forest floor in great mounds (I once stumbled upon a small clearing full of the stuff on the way to Doubletop Mountain in the Catskills)


Antler lichen from the Pseudevernia family festoons the thin branches of fir, spruce, and birch trees.


Looks like mapledust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora), glowing a milky green on the bark of what looks like a birch….or maybe this is birchdust lichen?


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Varied rag lichen (Platismatia glauca) covering a thin branch of a fir tree about 3,000 feet on the ridge between Cascade and Porter mountains.  It was growing very robustly in this area, it must have found its perfect habitat
Yellow-green ribbon lichen (Usnocetraria oakesiana).  This stands out in the fir-spruce forests because of its bright yellow-green color (hence the name), whereas many of the lichen are silvery-gray


A pixie-cup lichen from the Cladonia family.  As you clamber along a rocky section of the trail, you might notice these tiny structures growing among the moss, dirt, and leaf litter.  They are speckled with little dots called “soredia,” which contain both the fungal and algae components of the lichen, and which help the lichen spread through vegetative reproduction.


Appears to be Red-fruited cup lichen (Cladonia pleurota).  There’s nothing quite like the surprise of seeing these tiny spots of bright red.  Note:  this is not the popular British soldiers lichen, whose stalks are smooth


Cladonia amaurocraea was a new lichen for me and very different, in that it’s 2-3″ tall and stiff, with thorn-like branching points at the top of each stalk


In some places the fir trees were draped with beard lichen (Usnea).  Hard to say which species, possibly fishnet beard lichen


The exposed summits of the Adirondack high peaks are composed of anorthosite, an igneus rock very different from the sandstone that makes up the Catskills.  Adirondack summits are often spattered in green, which upon close inspection turns out to be different varieties of the crustose “map lichen.”
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This is Rhizocarpon geographicum
This is a close relative, Rhizocarpon lecanorium, where the yellow “areoles” tend to be crescent shaped around black “apothecia” (fruiting bodies which contain spores)


This is not a lichen, it’s a fungus called blue-green cup fungus (Chlorociboria aeruginascens).  If you’ve ever noticed rotting wood that’s stained blue-green, this is the fungus that’s responsible.  In days gone by, artists prized the blue-green wood, including 14-15th century Italian Renaissance woodworkers.
Some Adirondack Lichens

5 thoughts on “Some Adirondack Lichens

  1. Also recently visited the Adirondacks, Bog River Flow, and have a photo of a large lichen, about 2 feet across and a foot wide completely enveloping a tree stump in the water. Would like to identify it if possible. Not able to add a photo here, however. After looking at your pictures, maybe it is a large Cladonia as well .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. John Wales says:

    What about those larger leathery black on the bottom – light brown on top up to several inches (5-6 inches) in size – which I saw in Adirondacks near The Glen – overlooking Hudson River- Edie silky seen in the side of big ruck face with ferns in cracks

    Looks like camouflage

    What is this?

    I have some pics


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