The first time I saw Christmas lichen I was stunned. This dinner-plate-like lichen is festively colored and perfect to learn about during December, even though it only grows in along the Gulf Coast and coastal plains.
The Christmas lichen is a brightly colored example of a crustose lichen. These types of lichens are often round, flat, and somewhat crusty. Crustose lichens typically grow on tree trunks, but you can also find them on the flat surfaces or rocks as well.
Lichens are an example of a mutual beneficial biological relationship, typically between a fungus and an alga or a cyanobacterium. The alga or bacterium provide the fungal partner with sugars from photosynthesis, while the fungus provides protection from the environment for the alga or bacterium.
In the case of the Christmas lichen, the red hue comes from a chemical produced by one of the partners that make up this type of lichen. This red color typically collects around the outside and towards the middle. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why yet, but doesn’t it create the most amazing natural Christmas wreath?
Fun Fact – The Christmas lichen is actually used as a natural dye in Brazil.
More Homeschool Science Helps
- This time last year, we shared about Pine Trees.
- Don’t miss episode 18 of my podcast where I shared how to easily add a sprinkle of holiday science cheer.
- Lichen Hunt – Take the students on a nature walk to look for different kinds of lichens and where they grow. When you find a lichen, use a transparency (or tracing paper) to cover and trace it.