Lichens Support Wildlife In Your Garden

Golden Crowned Sparrow in Magnolia Pruning Pile

Golden Crowned Sparrow in Magnolia Pruning Pile.   Note the different types of lichens on the same type of wood.

 Just as lichens are a substantial food source for caribou during cold winters, critters in your garden might be thriving on lichens in your garden this winter.

Twisty Toad Tunnel is a hugelkultur wildlife habitat in our Northern California garden.  I severely pruned back a lichen-covered and overgrown tulip magnolia tree and stuffed the cut-down limbs, prunings, and cutting into The Bog — a hole in our garden where we make soil by winter and grow crops by summer.  Much of the magnolia cuttings are elegantly draped with lichens, surely a beneficial source of wildlife shelter and food for critters microscopic to crawling to larger.

The bulk of this article is devoted to the wildlife habitat benefits of lichens.

At the end of this article, a magical link will sweep you into Spore Lore’s creation of Twisty Toad Tunnel — a series of 5 videos.

Lichens Support Wildlife

California Towhee and Golden Crowned Sparrow foraging among Magnolia branches and lichens.

California Towhee and Golden Crowned Sparrow foraging among Magnolia branches and lichens.

This article is the product of an ever-growing little garden voice in my head.  That one-time, barely a squeak of a voice, started in November, and as most garden life forms headed toward their prime, it got bigger and bigger and louder and louder.  Little Voice was reminding me to trim the tulip magnolia tree in our back yard before the winter moisture set in.  The tree had a light pruning last year — a stronger pruning is in order this season to minimize water-laden branches’ splitting the tree haphazardly.

This has been a drought year in Northern California, so my procrastination to trim the tulip magnolia stretched well into winter, when we normally have rains.  I and the tree have been lucky!  Yes, the time to prune the magnolia is now, soon, when I am prepared.

 CA Towhee foraging in magnolia-lichen hugelkultur.

CA Towhee foraging in magnolia-lichen hugelkultur.

Every project must be thoroughly prepared — the Procrastinator’s Creed.  That’s it!  I’ll dig an enormous hole in the garden, install a wildlife habitat cavity at the bottom of it, and fill the  hole in with the magnolia prunings and other organic debris, creating a hugelkultur.

Two Hummingbirds in Lichen-Lined Nest.

Two Hummingbirds in a Lichen-Lined Nest.
© Jill Smith

Working with the old tulip magnolia tree and its copious lichens got me thinking about lichen’s value as a wildlife habitat resource.

Some of the easy to find information relating lichens with wildlife are listed below:

1) Hummingbirds build and decorate their nests with lichens.

2) Caribou heavily depend on lichens to survive cold winters.

3) Bryoria fremontii was the most widely used human edible lichen in North America –a famine food for many groups, and a delicacy for some.

 4) In the past Iceland moss (Cetraria islandica) was an important human food in northern Europe, and was cooked as a bread, porridge, pudding, soup, or salad.

5) Insects and arachnids use lichens to camouflage themselves.

So if lichens can be such a valuable wildlife habitat resource, why not propagate them in the garden?  Would be interesting to learn how to spread lichens around the garden and make them more accessible to wildlife.  No such luck, though, yet.  I was shocked to see that lichens, mosses, and algae are not indexed in The American Horticultural Society’s  comprehensive Plant Propagation book (© 1999, DK Publishing).  Now is time for those interested in wildlife gardening to embrace the whole garden – native flora and fauna that constitute the garden’s thriving biodiversity.

A golden Crowned Sparrow forages for food or nesting material on the lichen substrate.   I would love to know what food or nesting material it was after.

So if lichens can be such a valuable wildlife habitat resource, why not propagate them in the garden?  Wouldn’t it be interesting to learn how to spread lichens around the garden and make them more accessible to wildlife?  Yes, I have caught the bug — I am a Lichen Lover.  Now is time for those interested in wildlife gardening to embrace the whole garden – ALL native flora and fauna that constitute the garden’s thriving biodiversity.

Lichens Growing In Our Garden

Evernia prunastri, Oakmoss lichen, sometimes also called Antler lichen, or Staghorn lichen.

This is Evernia prunastri, Oakmoss lichen, sometimes also called Antler lichen, or Staghorn lichen.  It is quite common on oaks in California, also growing frequently on shrubs in somewhat dry habitats.   In France, it is used commercially as an additive to fine perfume; it helps to “fix” the scent and it also adds an herbal fragrance of its own.

The pale gray foliose one is a species of Parmotrema.

The pale gray foliose one is a species of Parmotrema.   Foliose lichens are somewhat leaf-like, composed of lobes.

(Xanthoria parietina) Common orange lichen

(Xanthoria parietina) Common orange lichen

Twisty Toad Tunnel — the installation

Twisty Toad Tunnel is a corrugated 4′ drain pipe that meanders down into the magnolia prunings and oak stump hugelkultur and then tunnels inside a cavity shelter 6 feet below ground — a porous 5-gallon bucket complete with the tunnel entrance, an exhaust pipe to ground-level surface, and discarded kitchen dishes in the nearly sealed bucket call the cavity home.

At Spore Lore, you will be able to view all 5 videos taken during Twisty Toad Tunnel’s installation.  Here is the magical link I promised you.  Enjoy!

Play in the garden and Habitat it!

                                                                 Tony

© 2014, Tony McGuigan. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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