Usnea Florida

NCWinter2018-95

This patch of Usnea, though very similar to the same type found in Florida (aptly named Usnea Florida), is unique to the Appalachians.  Like it’s Florida relative, this lichen has medicinal properties, is high in Vitamin C, and in a pinch can be used as gauze due to its antiseptic properties.  Although I should not be amazed any longer by things that indigenous people knew about nature, including the Timucuans chewing on willow bark to alleviate headaches, I am no less delighted every time I learn about a new use of a natural phenomena.

The lichen hangs on a black pine branch, and given its size and volume it must’ve been growing there for quite a while.  Lichen is a slow-growing organism, but I must admit that I don’t know enough about it to judge how long this one has been growing.  The light green of the lichen is set off by the dark rhododendrons behind it, and I actually enjoy the composition from a purely artistic, aesthetic standpoint as well as a documentary one.

I grew up around Spanish moss hanging from every limb of our oak trees that grew outside my bedroom window.  The only attention I paid to the moss was the ever-present caution from my mother to avoid the ever-present chiggers whose bite itched worse than a thousand mosquitoes.  I did not appreciate the epiphytes then, and it wasn’t until very recently (during my self-education on lichen) that I discovered that Spanish “moss” is actually a bromeliad, and is more closely related to the pineapple then actual moss.  Most of the epiphytic air plants that grow in Florida (genus Tilandsia) are bromeliads, and the subtropical climate of Florida is perfect for them to flourish.

Perhaps because I grew up around so much moss and lichen, I never truly appreciated them before I began documenting them in photographs.  In the photographs, I was able to more greatly appreciate their simple beauty.  I think my gateway drug was resurrection ferns (Pleopeltis Polypodioides), which fascinated me through their natural (no pun intended) symbolism and their innate ability to come back from the “dead.”  Once I found one epiphyte that captured my attention, it was a short matter of time before the others did so as well.

I love being able to share my renewed, and almost childlike, fascination with nature with Kemper.  Though his attention span is short, I can see the buds of interest taking root.  Perhaps it won’t take him almost thirty years to fully appreciate the natural world around him, but if it does, then he is in for a treat.

Click here for a larger version.

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