Here, living amid yesterday’s ice crystals, is a Maine native that only those with the keenest eyesight have ever seen without help. It’s a tiny fungus called British Soldier Lichen (Cladonia cristellata). Its name derives from a British military uniform immortalized in an old New England alarm: “The Redcoats are coming!” BSL stalks grow to about ¼ an inch and the red caps are slightly larger than pin-heads. Yet, this lichen is nibbled by White-Tailed Deer, Wild Turkeys, and other wandering salad lovers.
As you may know, lichens are two symbiotic organisms in one entity: fungi and algae. Basically, most of the body is a fungus that brings in water and minerals; the alga makes sugar from sunlight. Because their bodies are mostly fungi, lichens are classified as fungi. Thanks to neighbor Werner Gansz, a fine eagle-eyed photographer, for warning us that these British Soldiers were bivouacking on a nearby tree stump. (Brooklin, Maine)