The lichen thrives in Mississippi

Published 7:00 am Friday, August 28, 2015

Nature is full of mysteries and there is a fascinating one just outside in your landscape. We don’t have to look very far to find one of these marvels of creation, the lichen, thriving in our warm, humid, Mississippi climate. At first glance, the papery or fuzzy, white, gray or green growth might lead us to believe that lichen are just another parasite, working to destroy our landscape trees and ornamentals. Although lichen are often found associated with plants that are dead, dying or declining, we must remember that this is only circumstantial evidence, and the lichen is innocent until proven guilty.

Remember way back (for some of us) in junior high school science class when we first learned the meaning of symbiosis? A symbiotic relationship is one in which two organisms live in close relationship with one another to the benefit of each. Such is the case of the lichen. What appears to be one organism is actually two, an algae and a fungus living together that have formed one body. The algae, a green plant, can make its own food, and in this case, shares with the fungus.

The fungus, on the other hand supplies the structure, or thallus, within which the algae lives. Lichen can be found attached to healthy plants or those in dead or dying condition.

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Although sometimes unsightly, they are not parasitic and do not contribute to the poor quality of a plant.

Believe it or not, lichen is actually beneficial to humans for several reasons.

First, they are sensitive to air pollution and are commonly used by researchers to determine the air quality of a region.

If lichen thrives in your neighborhood, it’s a good indicator of quality air. Drug companies use lichen substances to make antibiotics.

Some lichens make nitrogen in the air more available to other plants. People eat some lichens but remember a few of them are poisonous. Lichen can also be used to make dye for coloring wool. It is usually not necessary to treat plants to control lichen. The best practice is to keep landscape plants healthy and growing vigorously.

However, for trees and shrubs that lose their leaves in winter (including fruit and nut), tribasic copper sulfate may be used at the rate of 4 teaspoonfuls per gallon of water to remove unwanted lichens.

Add a spreader sticker to the spray mix and avoid contact with evergreen plants.

Remember to always follow label directions when applying pesticides.

By Eddie Smith.