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Arctic Blast 2001

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The other nick name for this bright orange crusty lichen is jewel lichen much easier to pronounce than it’s official scientific name Xanthoria (pronounced zan-THOR-ee-aa).


The tulip of the North is none other than that greyish -- sometimes even sticky stuff -- you know from home as FUNGUS. Or actually it is a type of fungus called LICHEN (pronounced LiKE-en, sometimes LITCH-en ).

Xanthoria Lichen

A bewildering carpet of bursting colors in a dazzling array of reds, violets, scarlet, yellow and delicate shapes. This is the Arctic. See, the arctic tundra is not as most people think a colorless place -- White, white as far as your eye stretches in the winter and dull shades of brown and dusty green in the summertime. On the contrary it is a colorful place.

Lichen range in size
from an ant to an
elephant -- less than
1 mm (4/100 in) to
more than 3 m (10 ft)


Lichens are virtually indestructible and grow in funky places. No place is too cold, to dry or too hot for Lichens to grow. They have even survived at minus 460 degrees F (-273 C) -- absolute zero. As an example the eye-catching orange ones you see on the picture above prefers to grow throughout the arctic on rocky surfaces and old bones that have been soiled by pikas, arctic squirrels and bird droppings!

Why? Well, small mammals and birds of course like to use rocks and anything else sticking up from the flat tundra as an outlook post -- just like they use trees further South. And of course, they like to mark their favorite post. As such over time these spots become soaked in urine which is high in nitrogen and this particular lichen finds that to be perfect for growing on such nitrogen-enriched rocks.

The Polar Inuit of Northern Greenland calls them sunain anak, meaning the sun’s excrement!

Click Here to Watch!


Besides growing on rocks, lichen also settle on bark, bones, discarded antlers, old, metal artifacts and even dung!

With more than a 1000 of its kind growing in  North America, Arctic Lichen is the most dominant plant of the continent. One of the oldest and toughest plants on earth, this strange hardy plant is actually the number one player in the plant world with roughly 20,000 of its kind worldwide.

But the fungus is not doing it all alone! See, you can kind of think of the lichen as a living prison cell. Inside this tough adaptable plant structure lives an algae which is kind of prisoner of the fungus -- a relationship biologists call controlled parasitism. Most lichens are three-layered organisms, with an algae layer sandwiched between two layers of fungus. The chlorophyll-rich algae produces the food (sugar) for the lichen through photosynthesis.

Click Here to Watch!
Image link
in courtesy of NACSE


Though it may seem as an odd way of living it apparently works great..Some arctic lichens are thousands of years old, having lived since the earliest days of human civilization. And this actually makes lichen a great tool for scientists!

Scientists use lichen to estimate when glaciers disappeared!! Lichens are colonizers, meaning they are always the first to move into new areas, and they do so fast.

As the glaciers receded, lichen would move into the terrain almost instantly and since scientist have a very good idea of HOW fast the lichens grow they can just measure the size of this colonizer and then from there figure the disappearance of glaciers -- In Canada they found some lichen that had been there for more than 5000 years!


Lichens also serve as indicators of air quality. Lichen have no roots so they take all their moisture and nutritionist from the air and are therefore very sensitive to air pollution, especially automobile exhaust. In their early life stages, they do not tolerate lead; they also retain and register the effects of other heavy metals. For decades, scientists have monitored the health of lichen in order to track effects of acid rain. One place where it proved very helpful was in Sweden.

Besides being pretty, lichen is of great importance in arctic ecosystems, being the chief winter food of reindeer, moose, and caribou. But also for humans it has turned out to be a food source -- "Arctic Salad" which you can actually eat. But remember to cook them first! If not you will probably get nausea and diarrhea as so many other explorers before you. Not because any of the species in the Arctic are poisonous, but most of them contain acids that should be boiled out. The most popular "salad" is a black leathery version growing on rocks called "rock tripe" (Umbilicaria)..As you can imagine it is not too tasty but if you are hungry enough....


Try this FUN 1.2.3..on lichens

Lite Lichenland

Lichen have MANY different ways of living..check it out here

Lichen Lifeforms

Click here to see the many forms and shapes of their body

Lichen Bodies



Lichens are also dye sources; one called archil is used as a food-coloring agent and in chemistry to form litmus. Strips of paper impregnated with a blue or red litmus solution, are used to indicate the presence of an acid or a base in a solution; acids turn blue litmus red, and bases turn red litmus blue.

Learn ALL about lichens - in...(just click on the image)



ALL Above links (and their images) are in courtesy to NACSE - Thank you!

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