Mother Nature’s Garden: A long-awaited hike and an old friend
Released at 12:30 am on Saturday, January 14, 2023
It’s Boxing Day and life is pretty much back to normal here at Mother Nature’s Garden. The dogs slumped on their beds and refused to make eye contact with anyone. I suspect that at one time they paid more than enough attention.The need for solitude and rejuvenation in nature.
Today’s high was barely below freezing, but I decided to take my dog for a walk along the Lakeshore Trail in Holiday Lake State Park. As expected, it was quiet and peaceful. The dogs sniffed around. I don’t know what they were interested in, but they kept their noses on the ground for about 800 meters.
We humans were intrigued by rocks and logs with garlands of moss and lichens. Beneath the ground lies another world of tiny creatures. The British soldier’s lichen was certainly the flashiest we found, it was one I first recognized as a child but he was one and I’m always happy to find it again . The common name, British Soldier, comes from the red cap on the fruiting body, which resembles the traditional red uniform worn by British soldiers during the American Revolutionary War. Less often, and certainly less poetic, this lichen is known as fairy barf.
British soldiers are not plants. As lichens, they are collections of he two or sometimes he three organisms. In this case, the green algal he is Trebouxia erica and the fungal he is Cladonia cristatella. The resulting lichen bears the scientific name of its fungal partner. Algae carry out photosynthesis, and fungi receive sugars from it. The fungus provides structure and some protection from excessive sunlight, minerals and water. Recent research seems to suggest that there is a controlled infestation of algae by fungi.
British soldiers grow very slowly, only about 1 mm per year, so even a small patch could be decades old. They are an important part of the ecosystem. Decomposes trees and returns nutrients to the soil. They are highly sensitive to air pollution and act as an early warning system of rising pollution levels. Are they edible? Well, but you really don’t want to eat it. They are highly acidic and can harm the digestive system if not properly prepared.
The forest may look dead, but it’s just waiting for the first warm days of early spring. If you get the chance, walk at least part of the Lake Shore Trail and Holiday Lake State Park. There are large patches of some species of heartleaf that are evergreen and can withstand cold weather. When you step into the swamp, you’ll notice that the skunk cabbages are starting to emerge. Just walk and observe. You can refresh. Happy New Year from Mother Nature’s Garden!