I can only describe my 81 year old father this way; he's a crusty ex-Marine with a soft, gooey center.
At one time he liked landscaping and plants but that is long in the past. Now his yard is simply something he maintains with the help of friends from his church. It is a typical Florida front yard, a scraggly lawn dotted with anthills, a few azaleas, a crape myrtle (that has been crape murdered), a few palms and one live oak tree that provides a kind of constant mulching with its continual leaf-dropping, all surviving on a thin sandy soil.
There's the neighbor's grapefruit tree that grows over the backyard fence. It's an old tree that produces old-fashioned, not-ruby-red-inside, globes of fruit that taste good even though they are dusted with a sooty, fungusy, but not-quite-fatal condition. He saves the ripe ones that are within reach for his friends since grapefruit is forbidden with his medications.
On this visit my daughter and I followed our usual routine with my dad; breakfast at Panera's, a few handy(wo)man projects he can't do any more, sharing of photos, family history discussions, and poking around his stuff. On our way out to the shed I noticed something I'd never seen before.
Two sides of the backyard are surrounded with relatively new popsicle-stick shaped boards. But to the other side there is an aging stockade fence. Arranged on this fence as only nature can, is an assortment of lichens and moss that would put any Jackson Pollack painting to shame.
These lichens grow in a subtle collage of grays, greens and silver with a small splash of sulfury yellow against the weathered red wood. Viewed singularly they are like a carefully styled still life, from afar a beautifully blended tapestry.
The fence reminded me of my father. At times blunt and abrasive with a complicated and compassionate soul hidden just beneath the surface.
After a quick search on lichens, well that's not possible, turns out there are hundreds of them, I did identify a few of the lichens yet not down to their scentific labels. Some lichens will only attach to stone, some to wood/plants and some to both. They can be an indicator of air quality with some sensitive to nitrogen and others not. Fascinating stuff!
At first I figured the pale green beardy growth was an another epiphyte (air plant) similar to Spanish moss that also grew in sprigs on the fence. However it is called usnea, or "old man's beard". It is a fructiose lichens. Crustose lichens are the flatter kinds and foliose varieties tend to be leafy in appearance. They "bloom" in all colors. Lichens are a composite life form combining a fungus with an algae. Beyond that I'm still in the novice category but curious to learn more.
The Garden Buzz
That leads to questions. Do we consider this part of the garden or just collateral nature since it's not intentional? Can we encourage and tend lichens in order to give our gardens an aged patina? Do they harm other plants and hardscape? Are they a symptom of other plant disease?
How about you? Do you have lichens in your garden and how do you regard them? Let me know in the comment section...