We had an excellent (if sometimes grey) morning with Dr Rebecca Yahr, Lichenologist, from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on Sunday. As you’ll know, the Edinburgh Shoreline project is run by the Botanics, so we’re lucky enough to work with Becky, but Sunday was all about unleashing her on the general public, and what a day it was!
As well as researching lichens, Becky also works on public engagement. The Botanics wants everyone to know what special organisms lichens are: a symbiosis of a fungi and an algae. The algae produces the food for the organism through photosynthesis, and the fungi produces a protective sunscreen layer for the organism. Lichens like to live on rocks and bark, amongst other places, and they also prefer clean air.
So, Becky took us on a walk to Cramond Island to find lichens. As the island is in the middle of the Forth, at a distance from the pollution of the city, lots of lichens can be found there. We had a great time searching for the different types of lichen (crusty, leafy and bushy) and looking closely at them under our hand lenses. Like fungi, lichens reproduce by releasing spores and therefore many lichens have produced little cups in which the spores are made, or produced ‘peg’-like growths which break off to form new lichens. Looking at these features under the hand lens was like looking at an miniature alien world. Cool!
We’d like to thank everyone who came along to the walk, and particularly to the two young brothers who joined us. They were brilliant at spotting new types of lichen and matching them up to our illustrated lichen guides. The RBGE lichenologists of the future, we’re sure!
And as with all good events, there were lichen puns all round.