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Liken or not?

November 6, 2021

It was a wet walk yesterday, as you may or may not be able to guess from this photo of Georgie.

Mind you, this photo was taken before it really started pelting down, so she doesn’t look as saturated as she was by the end of the walk.

At one point Joe and I noticed these tiny mushrooms growing on a tree. 

As we were examining them, he told me fungi and lichen begin life as the same organism. (Okay, that may not have been what he told me and I’m too lazy to look it up, but there’s definitely some connection between them.)

Further along the trail we spotted this.

Lichen or not lichen? I can’t remember ever seeing any so well defined, so black. Maybe.

Then, a few steps later…

I didn’t zoom as close in on these three as I did on the first. The markings were almost as black. Interesting.

But not as interesting as Joe spotting this a while later.

Not exactly the same circular pattern as the one on the rocks, but very similar. And this was definitely mould – fungal mould.

So, yes, assuming the rock photos are of developing lichen which will eventually turn the more recognisable greenish grey, there definitely seems to be some connection. Blackish to start on inorganic matter, straight to greenish grey on organic matter. Interesting.

Well, now, of course, I do have to look it up and here’s what I’ve just learnt:

“Up until 2016, lichen was thought to be a partnership between one alga and one fungus, the classic symbiotic relationship. Then came the observation than in fact lichen harbors two types of fungi—an ascomycete and a newly identified basidiomycete yeast.”

Not only that, but since 2016, according to this article, a third type of fungi has been identified. Fascinating stuff. I go for a walk to get some exercise and to hang out with Georgie (and Joe), and end up with a biology lesson.

Not that that’s the reason I’m writing about this. (Although you can apparently learn something new every day.)

When we first spotted the tiny mushrooms and Joe mentioned the connection between fungi and lichen, he pronounced the latter “liken”. I’ve always pronounced it “litchen”. Which I did many years ago when I was out for a walk with Mike. He immediately corrected me, with a bit of an eye roll, telling me it was “liken”. Hmm, I thought at the time, I’m sure I’ve never heard it pronounced as liken. But then I noticed that everyone who mentioned the word pronounced it that way. How did it get wrong? Was it a case of never hearing the word before and simply guessing at the pronunciation? Perhaps.

A few years ago, my friend Tony came over from London to spend Christmas with me. On Boxing Day I took him for a walk at one of my favourite places on the island.

And he said it: litchen! Oh, thank heavens! I hadn’t just made it up in my head. Litchen was the British pronunciation. Not quite, Tony said, when I mentioned this to him. People in the UK do also say liken, but both pronunciations are acceptable.

Tomayto/tomahto. I didn’t care. The point is I wasn’t wrong. Take that, Mike, wherever you are.

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