Red Rock Canyon A to Z

L: Lichens

Have you come across these colorful yet bizarre growths on desert rocks? You are seeing lichens: a combination of fungus and algae (and sometimes cynobacteria). They live together in a symbiotic relationship that is beneficial to all; the algae photosynthesizes and makes food for the fungus, while the fungus gives structure and form for the algae. Although lichens look like moss, neither fungus nor algae are considered plants and are in their own kingdoms.  Lichens are nonvascular and do not have roots, stems, or leaves.  In the desert, the whole lichen goes dormant when conditions become too harsh, but it will revive with a good rain. Lichens can take crazy shapes, from flat and bumpy to thick and frilly, and can have different colors.  The desert’s fragile biological soil crusts also contain lichens.  Just remember, it’s two or more organisms likin’ each other!

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