Fruticose Lichens

Fruticose lichens exhibit a three-dimensional structure. For example, they may be bushy, spindly, stringy, branching, swag-like or cup-shaped, but their main stems are nearly always round in cross-section.

Three images of different lichen labelled left to right 1,2, & 3. Lichen 1 has pale green twisted stalks topped in a bright red cap. Lichen 2 is a series of pale green stalks ending in concave cups. Lichen 3 is a cluster of branching green stems.
Example Cladonia lichens, left to right: toy soldiers, pixie cups, and reindeer lichen.

NPS/C. Vecchio Photos.

The Cladonias are a highly diverse genus, and extremely difficult to differentiate without chemical testing or microscopic examination. A few examples are shown here.

  1. Cladonia bellidiflora is commonly known as "Toy Soldiers," and should not be confused with C. cristatella ("British Soldiers") which grows in the eastern part of the US.
  2. Many Cladonia species take the form of golf tees. These are collectively known as "pixie cups." Individual species require expert identification.
  3. Until recently, Cladonia rangiferina ("reindeer moss" or "reindeer lichen") was placed in the genus Cladina. With advances in DNA testing, it has been reclassified as a Cladonia.
A branching pale green lichen.
Sphaerophorus globosus lichen.

NPS/C. Vecchio Photo

Sphaerophorus ("tree coral") can be found on the bark of many evergreens. Its apothecia are spherical knobs at the tips of its branches.

A patch of lichen with grey-green growths on short stalks growing out of bright green moss.
Stereocaulon paschale lichen.

NPS/C. Vecchio Photo

Stereocaulon ("foam" or "Easter lichen") is easily recognizable by its abundant squamules (scales). It is frequently found growing among mosses.

Two photos of lichen with short green stalks topped in round black heads.
Pilophorus acicularis (top) and Pilophorus clavatus (bottom) lichens.

NPS/C. Vecchio Photos

Pilophorus acicularis ("devil's matchstick") and Pilophorus clavatus ("tapered matchstick") are true pioneers, forming colonies on freshly broken rock.

A mass of hair-like pale green lichen strands.
Alectoria sarmentosa lichen.

NPS/C. Vecchio Photo

Alectoria sarmentosa ("witches' hair") is common in the park's lower forests. It is often mistaken for Spanish moss (a tropical epiphyte).

A mass of thread-like black lichen wrapped around a branch.
Bryoria fremontii lichen.

NPS/C. Vecchio Photo

Bryoria fremontii ("horse-hair lichen") is wiry and stiff, and was eaten by the indigenous people of the area. It is one of few edible lichens.

Three photos of pale green lichens with numerous short branches coming off of a central stem.
Examples of Usnea lichens.

NPS/C. Vecchio Photos

The Usneas ("beard lichens") are characterized by having a stretchy "spinal cord" running centrally through their branches. There are several different species in the park.

Some Usneas are bushier than others, such as in the second example (middle photo). The manner in which the branches fork can be helpful in making an identification.

Usnea longissima is unmistakable (right photo). It does not branch, and its garlands can grow up to 15 feet (4.5 m) long.

Last updated: January 31, 2020

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