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How to hunt up the perfect winter nature study subject . . . lichens! {Plus a free notebooking page}

Learn about lichens and get directions for going on your own lichen hunt in this winter nature study from Elemental Science.

Lichens are perfect to study in the fall and winter. As the trees are shedding their leaves and the plants are starting to die off, the lichens in the area begin to stand out.

Plus, lichens can be found all over the world, including the in the desert!

Typically, you will find lichens on the bark of a tree or on a rock. Many lichens are about the size of a human fist, but they can grow to be as large as dinner plates and even larger.

As you study lichens using the information and activity below, you can download the following notebooking page to document it all:

Let’s take a closer look at the amazing lichen!

What are lichens?

Learn about lichens and get directions for going on your own lichen hunt in this winter nature study from Elemental Science.

Lichens are the result of a symbiotic, or mutually beneficial, partnership between a fungus and an alga plant or a bacterium. In other words, they are technically not plants, but rather a living partnership.

In the lichen partnership the fungi protect the algae or bacteria that live below. In turn, the algae or bacteria provide the fungi with the sugars they need to grow.

Lichens reproduce using diaspores, which are released into the air. The diaspore is simply a spore with some additional tissue. Lichen diaspores contain spores from the fungus plus a few cells from the alga or bacterium. Once the diaspora lands in a suitable place, it grows and develops into another lichen.

As I said before lichens are found through the world, growing on tree trunks and rocks. Lichens can be found in some of the harshest environments, such as the arctic tundra.

3 Types of Lichens

There are three main types of lichens:

  • Fruticose – These lichens are shrub-like. (pictured above on the left)
  • Foliose – These lichens are more leaf-like. (pictured above in the center)
  • Crustose – These lichens are flat and crusty. (pictured above on the right)

The crustose lichen is generally the most recognized type. But the three different types of lichens can all be found in most environments.

How to go on a Lichen Hunt

So now that your students understand a bit more about the amazing lichen, it is time to take them on a lichen hunt!

What you need

You will need:

  • a magnifying glass
  • a putty knife

What to do

Begin by taking the students for a walk around your house or in your local woods to look for examples of lichens on trees and rocks.

After they find a lichen, ask them these questions to help their observations:

  • Where do the lichens grow (i.e. full sun, partially shade, or dark)?
  • What do the lichens grow on (i.e. rocks, ground, or glass)?
  • What type of lichens did you find?

Have the students observe the lichen with their magnifying glass to see how it is different or it is similar to other plants they have observed.

Once they have looked at the lichen up close, scrape off a tiny bit of the lichen with the putty knife. Have the students turn it over and examine the underside of the sample.

If possible, have the students look for all three types of lichens. Have them observe each one in the same way, noting any similarities and/or differences.

Wrapping it Up

Lichens are the result of an amazing biological partnership. They are a fascinating living example of symbiosis perfect for a fall study.

If you want to learn more about plant life, check out the following:

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