Usnea Strigosa Bushy Beard Lichen Photo Credit: Melissa Coleman

For centuries humans have turned to the animal and plant kingdoms for inspiration to create everything from war machines to medicines.

Now, however, it’s time to wake up and be enlichened.

There are two more kingdoms to be explored – the kingdom of Fungi and the kingdom of Protista (Alga and cyanobacterium) – and they have a lot to offer mankind.

The humble Lichen is a fusion of these two less explored but equally appealing kingdoms.

Made up of fungi and algae organisms, lichen relies on one another to live. This reliance is called symbiosis – the two organisms commit to a mutually beneficial relationship.

To break it down Sym means together and Bio means life and when the two conjunctions are joined, they imply living together.

Photo Credit: Melissa Coleman

This makes lichen a fascinating organism with a great deal to teach humanity. Lessons not in the way of inventions, but rather in virtues and morality, because just like a symbiotic human relationship, no two lichens are completely alike.

Personalities, traits and dispositions vary in humans and the same is true in the Fungi and Protista realms. There are more than 3200 different types of fungi and at least 12 000 algae species in Australia.

To meet your soul match in the Protista kingdom could be an evolutionary process as research from Michigan State University suggests that ‘over 5 million years ago algae hitched a ride out of the water with fungi to colonise the land.’ And fungi are found all over our planet.

Interestingly though fungi are incapable of photosynthesis which means it is unable to generate its own food. Because of this fungus seek out a partner to provide a source of nourishment.

So, when a fungus hooks up with an algae or cyanobacterium to form a lichen, it provides itself with nutrition to grow and spread. The algae, which can survive in salt and fresh water, now grows in a drier environment when part of a lichen relationship. The two organisms produce a special type of chemistry and cooperate to form a mutual bond, much like how a human relationship would begin. It’s a win win combination.

Like all new bonds or attachments whether it be lichen or human, energy and time spent together is a prerequisite.

Ground Lichen Photo Credit: Melissa Coleman

For lichens growth is very slow, a lot of time is required. They spend many years in a young state establishing their relationship, and in doing so the partnership thrives. Some have been known to live for hundreds of years. Their slow growth rate equates to a long life together; maintaining, nourishing and producing energies - living in harmony as one.

Another obvious reason lichens can be compared to human relationships is their beauty.

The fungi and algae complement each other. Their beauty is in their colour, texture and uniqueness.

How much more enchanting is an Oak tree with an Old Man’s Beard hanging from its rough branches or the Bushy Beard nestled on the branch of a Cyprus Pine tree. Without these living organisms gracing our trees or adding colour to rock formations, our environment would look dull and unexciting.

It’s the same when you sit in a parkland area and notice an elderly couple strolling together holding hands, smiling as they converse to one another. It’s beautiful to see and exciting to think that one day that could be you and your partner.

The power Lichens have to influence the well-being of humans is clear, so next time you notice a bizarre-looking ‘plant’, take a long moment of your time and think of the wholesome goodness it can teach you.

Photo Credit: Melissa Coleman

#lichen #ecology #wellbeing #humanrace #evolution

Reference news Chrissy Sexton 2019 Algae may have teamed up with fungi to give rise to tej first terrestrial plants.

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Melissa Coleman

Freelance Journalist/Author/PR Manager



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