Sunday 15 December 2013

The Trees Have Beards

Image: Richard Droker
Just in time for Christmas... free beards for all! They grow on trees, you know.

It's the most hirsute time of the year! From the Krampus to Santa himself, this is the season of HAIR. Whether it's a big, bushy beard or a full-body covering of downy fur (what does Santa hide beneath that crimson garb?), let those whiskers flow!

If the trees can do it, then so can you.

Image: Jason Hollinger
Tree beards are made of lichen.

Lichen are a large group of fungi that contain symbiotic algae or cyanobacteria within their tissues. The fungal side provides water and a safe place to stay, and in return it receives the tasty products of photosynthesis from their symbiotic chums.

Image: Arthur Chapman
It's an extremely successful system - lichens are everywhere! And they come in all shapes and sizes, from crusty growths clinging to rocks in the Arctic to bushy affairs growing on tree branches in woods and rainforests.

The most dramatic ones are "pendant", meaning they grow long and dangling from the trees.

Image: Jason Hollinger
Three species, each from a different genus
Several species grow like this and they aren't necessarily closely related to each other. Some have been used for making bandages or pillow stuffing. Even birds can grab a beakful of Witch's Hair for nest material. I'm sure actual witches are glad there's a lichen willing to step in for them there.

Obviously the longest lichen in the world is a big beardie-weirdie. It's Methuselah's Beard Lichen and it can reach over 3 metres (10 feet) long!

Video: Rob Mutch
Methuselah's Beard Lichen (Dolichousnea longissima). It's... longissima.

Methuselah was Noah's grandfather. Noah! The fellow with the massive boat and Russell Crowe's face. Tradition has it that Methuselah died aged 969, just one week before the flood. Unfortunately he never got to see that his grandson was actually being prudent and preparing for the future, rather than just building himself a ridiculously huge, luxury yacht.

On the plus side, he had plenty of time to grow himself a seriously stonking beard...

Image: Calypso Orchid
So stonking it inspired the trees!


TexWisGirl said...

looks like the mosses in the swamps. :)

Joseph JG said...

Hanging up to dry!