Sunday, August 29, 2010

Like ’Em or Not – Lichens

This blog post has been on my mind for many months. Not that I studied it all that time, but mostly because it scared me! Not being a scientist I don’t speak genus and species, and really don’t know much about plants, etc. except the beauty and miracles I enjoy from them. So I asked Steven Fulton, our biologist, for help. “Steven, I want to do a blog on lichens and I need your help.” He asked, “When are you going to post it?” I said, “Next week” to which he replied, “I think you’ll need more time than that, there are 18,000 of them!”

In the winter of 2009 my friend, Joanna Rees, and I were exploring a very step rugged canyon on a part of the ranch named “High Lonesome.” We entered the canyon from the bottom climbing through thick brush, fallen trees, over rocks and stones. I was there primarily looking for any new source of water, a seep or spring, but we were also exploring, enjoying the Fall colors and getting good exercise. I hadn’t been in this canyon in years. It was thick with greenbriar which we were fighting and cutting on our way. At the head of the canyon rim it is lined with an outcropping of giant boulders, perhaps 20 feet tall. We could see where wild creatures had made their homes there. Perhaps coyotes, bobcats, maybe even our goats who are pastured there from time to time, but what got our attention were strange drawings on the face of these giant boulders. There were many of them and at first we thought – PETROGLYPHS. This was exciting as perhaps it would be another attraction for our education programs. We’re pretty excited about this and I can’t wait to show this to Steven. Upon looking at these interesting circles, Steven said these are not ancient Indian messages at all, but are in fact lichens. Not ancient, but they are formed over very long periods of time.

We have, over 40 years, been “building” a library here at the ranch. Not just field guides, but published research, and books on everything that exist with us and for us on this planet. Books on nature’s success stories, famous explorers who wrote about the Hill Country and modern day biologists and environmentalists. Books on endangered species and legal issues. Books on water, trees, grass, fossils – well you name it – we have a respectable library . . . but it had never occurred to me to acquire a book on lichens until my curiosity arose from the discovery of the “petroglyphs”!

I learned about the “lichen bible” as I call it – Lichens of North America by Irwin M. Brodd, Sylvia Duran Sharnoff and Stepehn Sharnoff published by Yale University Press. It’s unbelievably thorough and beautiful. It also is big and thick and it cost over $120.00! I also found in our library an article about lichens by Janet R. Edwards and printed in the Texas Co-op Power Magazine in September of 2001. I also got lichen information from my good friend Susan Sander, founder of the Riverside Nature Center in Kerrville. She is always full of nature knowledge. . . . One of the more unusual lichen things I received was through a Selah visitor, Gwendolyn Hallsmith, from Montpelier, Vermont. She, via email, introduced me to Alan Atkisson who wrote, among other things, “The Strangely Popular Lichen Song” which, with his permission, I’m adding the lyrics to this posting . . . You can buy the song on iTunes or on

Now, just what are lichens? Once again, I have to confess – I’m not a biologist so I won’t try to get into the scientific lingo by copying from my Lichen bible – about the simplest way I can define a lichen is that they are small, colorful little creatures. They are not plants, but they grow or form just about everywhere in any environment from deserts to the Artic, on trees or stone, iron gates, power lines or dead wood. They are formed from a marriage of an alga and a fungus and like in any marriage (should be) they work together for the benefit of both. Lichens are different than mosses, fungi or algae, but I don’t have the ability to tell you about all their differences except that a mushroom is a fungus, mosses are small soft plants that, here on the ranch, grow on stones around our springs and as the adage goes “a rolling stone gathers no moss” and fungi are a group of spore-producing organisms feeding on organic matter such as molds, yeast, mushrooms and toadstools.

I read once in a government agriculture bulletin that it takes Mother Nature 500 years to manufacture soil. Well, it’s lichens that make this happen! One more fact before I move on, is that lichens are useful in making compounds used in medicines as well as herbicides, dyes and perfumes and if you’re poking around in bird nests, you’ll often find the birds used them in building the nests. So, you see, lichens are another of nature’s success stories!

Steven left me a post-a-note in the lichen bible instructing me to “find this in a tree.” It’s the 9 x 10 beautiful picture on the jacket cover of my lichen bible. I thought that should be so easy to spot until I walked trails and woods for two hours to no avail. You’d think an 82 year-old conservation oriented man like me would know better. When I complained to Steven, he reached to a branch over my head – he’s 6’8” - and broke off this dead branch. I had been wondering through the woods looking for a big patch of this orange beauty, not something the size of a nickel! Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

Psora crenata (From the Lichen bible) Common name – Brickscale. Found on soil in arid sites. The scales are pink to pinkish-orange and turn grey-green when damp. They are very small. Photograph taken by J. David.

Here is Steven looking at the petroglyphs!! Well, not petroglyphs, but you can imagine how excited we were when we found them. The Lichen “bible” lists them as Speerchneidera euploca with a common name, Pale rockwood. Photograph taken by J. David.

Here you see a large group of the Pale rockwood. A common growth form of lichens is in circular patches or radial growth. Some lichens will maintain the entire patch of growth while others will allow the older center of the patch to become inactive and die leaving an outer ring of younger material which continues to take advantage of un-harvested nutrients/minerals from the substrate as it grows in a radial fashion. Photograph taken by J. David.

Dermatocarpon miniatum – common name Stippleback, leather lichen. Lichens have the ability to grow on rocks of all types and textures. These are usually found on limestone rock. Photograph taken by J. David.

The following are three pictures of lichen covered rock. Our hillsides on the ranch have many large rocks covered with the white patches – Hacma fenzlianum. We found very little of the yellow and orange. Photograph taken by J. David.

Photograph taken by J. David.

Photograph taken by J. David.


Many times I’ve said I’m not a scientist. This is the most difficult blog I’ve ever tried and I might not have these lichens correctly identified. I will say I know much more now about lichens than I did before. Discovery and pictures were the easy part, the identification was not.

Now, if you want some real lichen entertainment fun, listen to Alan Atkinson sing his song. Here are the lyrics:

by Alan Atkisson

Once there was a fungus, Freddie was his name,

Said there’s no love for me among us

All these fungi look the same

So he took himself a’ courtin’

Down to where the green things grow

Met some algae name of Alice

She set his heart aglow


Freddie Fungs, Alice Algae

Took a “Lichen” to each other

They grew so very close

That now you can’t tell one from t’other

Them lichens lead a simple life

They never are alone

Alice does the cookin’

And Freddie builds the home

-That’s right, this song is biologically correct -

Well Freddie says, now Alice

You’ve made my life complete

But Alice said, “Now Freddie,

there’s something else we need.

gotta have some lichen children

little ones like you and me.”

So they broke up into pieces

That’s how lichens came to be.


-That’s right, they’re domestic, but they’ve got a great love life – like you

Now you’re a lonesome fungus

And you’re hungry too, besides

Better hook up with somebody

Who can photosynthesize

And if you love each other

Like all good couples do

And take vows of symbiosis

You can be a lichen, too.


There are so many, many good causes that need financial help. Preserving the earth itself is important. So, if you would like to help us with a donation, we are a 501(c)(3) private operating foundation and gifts are deductible to the extent of the law. You can send your contributions to: Bamberger Ranch Preserve, 2341 Blue Ridge Drive, Johnson City, TX 78636 or donate through your computer by using PayPal.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Acquaintances Become Friends

Friend – “a person whom one knows well and is fond of; intimate associate; close acquaintance; applied loosely to any associate or acquaintance, or as a term of address even to a stranger” from Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary.

In Water From Stone, I’m quoted as saying that I know a lot of people, but I have few friends. However events in my life the past few years have lead me to questions my definition of friend.

As the dictionary says, it could be a close acquaintance. In going through this questioning, I’ve come to realize I have many friends so I retract my statement. I think Selah has done that for me . . . from the thousands of people, young and not so young, who have visited here my circle of acquaintances has evolved into friendships. Likewise, I have many of these visitors who tell me that the “Selah Moments” they have experienced here have had a profound life changing impact on them. They need to return to walk a trail, experience the changing seasons, see nature’s progress, to talk to Colleen, Steven or myself, to have another Selah Moment. These encounters over time, the familiarity from them that develops in our lives moves us from acquaintances to friends. One aspect of this that has moved me is that age, sex, religion, politics, social status, financial status, nor anything I can think of, none of these are a barrier to friendship. I’m so very pleased to have come to this realization. Reflecting on this has been a good experience for me. I recommend you try it.

Pilar and Apolos Urquieta live in Peru where they are restoring a tract of land and using it for environmental education. They learned about Selah from the internet. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

Kim Kennard spent three summers in Texas while doing research for her Master’s Degree in relation to bats and their value to agriculture. Kim did a short stint as an intern at Selah. Matt Valente is a Ph.D. candidate in Geography and Paleo Ecology. Photograph taken by Joanna Rees.

Ed Sones is a wildlife rehabilitator who has brought many “creatures” to the ranch for release. Here he is preparing a green heron for its new home on Selah. Grey and Willow Grote, who live here on the ranch, learn about the many animals brought here by Ed and Sallie Delahoussaye. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

Dr. Kunz has brought many scientists to Selah to do research on bats and along with others they have developed a system used to actually count the bats emerging from the cave. Pictured are some of the young people who spent three weeks with us in July. Their credentials are so impressive everything from undergraduate degrees, master degrees, doctorial degrees and post doc student except Lois and me who are “lowly” undergraduate degree holders. From left to right they are: Paul Heady, III, Winifred F. Frick holding their son, Darwin, Nathan Fuller, Lois Sturm, J. David, Dr. Tom Kunz, Jaclyn Aliperti, Leslie Pepin. Photograph taken by Mary Jo Snider.

Gary McCracken, Professor and Department Head Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee. Gary is a nationally known bat biologist. He is a scientific advisor to our Preserve and was very helpful in 1997 when we built the Chiroptorium. Jennifer Krauel is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tennessee. Photograph taken by Joanna Rees.

Liz Braun de Torres, Ph. D. candidate Boston University does our bat censusing and three wonderful and interesting students who assistant her. They are from left to right Liz Braun de Torres; Luyi Zheng, graduate of Texas A&M at Galveston Marine Biology; Kristen Lear, Ohio Wesleyan University senior majoring in zoology; and Gary Kanner, Boston University Biology and Environmental Science. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

Most certainly my son, David K., and son-in-law, Ernie Sessums, would not fall under the definition of acquaintance! It is possible, however that, as we all grow a little older, sometimes moving far away making personal contact less frequent that in spite of the family link one may not think of a relative as a friend. This is not the case here as Ernie Sessums, left, and David K. Bamberger, right, are two of my best friends. Photograph taken by Joanna Rees.

There are so many, many good causes that need financial help. Preserving the earth itself is important. So, if you would like to help us with a donation, we are a 501(c)(3) private operating foundation and gifts are deductible to the extent of the law. You can send your contributions to: Bamberger Ranch Preserve, 2341 Blue Ridge Drive, Johnson City, TX 78636 or donate through your computer by using PayPal.