Saturday, March 05, 2011

In Praise of Electrified Cat's Tail, Pimpled Kidney, and Others of Their Ilk

All of Portland Is Covered in Moss

At this time of year (nearly) all of Portland has, at the very least, a patina of moss--if not a shaggy suit of moss armor. It's glorious, and I love everything there is to love about these tough, tiny, tenacious spore-bearing plants. I've been taking a closer look at them lately. Worth it!

What Does the Future Hold?

I've been doing some superficial research, too. That is, I've been skimming my copy of Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast to see if I might be able to identify some of the many different types of moss I've been scrutinizing. The common names I've run across are wonderfully vivid and imaginative. "Electrified cat's tail moss," "hairy lantern moss," "goblin's gold," and "lanky moss" are a few of my faves.


Once a person gets down on her hands and knees to inspect moss, she can't help but notice that this town is also lousy with lichen (but in a good way!).

Lichens are odd and fascinating organisms. There is some debate about how to classify them, but my book hails them as the "banners of the fungal kingdom," although I'm not sure why. They are fungi, I guess, but they "farm" algae inside their own structures. The algae carries out photosynthesis on behalf of a lichen and supplies it with nutrients. Wacky!

But not nearly as wacky as the common names that have been given to various species of lichen. As great as a name like "electrified cat's tail moss" is, how can it possibly compete with lichen names like "punctured rocktripe," "lettuce lung," "freckle pelt," "pimpled kidney," "questionable rock-frog," "ragbag," "devil's matchstick," "false pixie cup," or "blood-spattered beard"?

And lest you think that I've just cherry-picked the weirdest names I could find and that these bizarro lichens are known only to a select group of mycologists, let me assure you that any Portlander willing to inspect a retaining wall in his or her neighborhood or take a short stroll in any of our urban forests will see some of these crazy-ass lichens.

Right here, taken a few blocks from my house, is some false pixie cup, growing on a mossy rock in someone's front garden. It's very common. And cute.


And here's a two-fer: A hemlock cone nestled among blood-spattered beard and ragbag. Nice. Taken in Forest Park. Not hard to find at all.


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