THE TREE YEAR – Disaster! (and Lichens)

On the way home from work last week, I spent a good while sitting watching my trees to see what was living in and around them. Since then I’ve basically been housebound with a dodgy back and, having written up this post, I went out today to go to the GP and…


They’re chopping down my bloody trees!!! I’ve yet to find out why or whether they’re taking them down completely but I’m sure I’ve heard chat in the past that they “spoil the view of the Church” – don’t get me started on that one…

Anyway, for what its worth – heres what was living in and around the trees last week:

Nothing it seems… I could hear the little birds but I couldn’t see them – I think they were in the Beech Hedge underneath. There were crows but they flew from the church tower over the top to the Copper Beech [now I wonder if they knew something I didn’t…]. No new growth coming on yet – the third round of snow has only just melted. But then I noticed something that was growing… all of the Tilia were covered in lichens! Lichens are a collaborative entity made up of an algae, which provides food by photosynthesis, and a fungus which protects the algae in return for a share of the food. They are a good indicator of clean air as they are very susceptible to air borne pollution. As very slow growing entities, they are also a good indicator of age for the tree or building they are found on. The flat types are the most difficult to ID but I’ll keep an eye on them over the year and see if anything happens to them to make them more distinctive. Probably best to take my loup along next time. The 3D (I think technically called fruticose) ones are less difficult but I’m no expert!

lichen twig

I initially thought that the one on the twig was Reindeer Moss (Cladonia portentosa) but now I think its Heather Rags (Hypogymnia physodes). The smaller hairy one I do know as Usnea – it’s the medicinal one. You can tell you’ve got an Usnea by pulling a strand apart. It should be stretchy (known as ‘knicker elastic lichen’ in Scotland) and when it breaks you should see a white cord running through the centre. Not one which came up in my training but, as a local ‘herb’, it’s definitely one I’m interested in getting to know better. It is used as an anti-biotic and has been researched for its anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

The charity Plantlife have produced a great wee booklet on lichens which I picked up a Countryside Ranger talk last year. As well as Richard Armstrong, the Ranger who gave the talk, I must credit it with alot of the information presented above.  It also tells me that lichens have been used as natural dyes for Harris Tweed, with colours from browns and fawns through to, remarkably, reds and purples! I particularly like this wee quote:

“Lichen dye once fetched such a high price that it gave rise to the Scottish saying ‘cattle on the hills, gold on the stones’.”

Sadly, this says nothing of the treasure in the trees. This is not how I thought my Tree Year would go but I’ll follow developments and keep posting…

4 thoughts on “THE TREE YEAR – Disaster! (and Lichens)”

  1. Brilliant blog, always jealous of those able to identify lichens and bryophytes of which there are so many in Scotland. Looking at the photograph of your lime trees, this appears to be a very good illustration of proper pollarding by a competent arborist – these trees should be invigorated now and the new growth this year should be beautiful. many urban lime trees in France are cut back each year which allows for the longevity of the tree.

  2. Thank you – this is wonderful to hear. I had wondered if that might be the case but didn’t think that there would be much new growth this year. Very excited for my trees now!!!

  3. Thank goodness they aren’t just cutting down the trees completely! I’m always saddened by those who cut down a tree that has lived and grown for decades, or even centuries – it is such a shame when they cut down such a tree with no consideration for how long it has lived or all the things it has seen!

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