Lichen: Peltigera canina - Obsession nr. 1
Lichens are totally different from other organisms and not much is understood about how they work. They may look like they are a single organism, but in fact they are two or more partners that form a symbiotic relationship. One of the partners is a fungus (mycobiont, for those who are interested) which makes the vegetative body of the lichen which houses the other partner, the photosynthetic (photobiont) one. The photosynthetic partner (there can be more than one) is usually green algae or cyanobacteria (cyano is from the greek kyanos=bluegreen) and it's funtion is to produce energy for itself and the fungal partner. Cyanobacteria is quite well known to most soapers: Arthrospira platensis and A. maxima are the latin names of Spirulina which can be used to make green soaps.
There are about 13,500 species of lichen on the planet, but only 750 are found in Iceland. Lichens are basically of 3 types:
- Foliose - which means that they are leaf like in their structure.
- Crustose - those are like a crust stuck to a surface and are usually very thin and tightly attached. These are about 75% of all lichens.
- Fruticose - these are branched structures.
Since lichens grow very, very slowly I am careful to harvest only common lichen that I find growing abundantly. I have a rule of never taking more than 1% of any plant material that I collect and therefore I have no fear of collecting too aggressively.
I have known about lichens forever, as my parents taught us well and especially about the more unusual plants like lichen and moss, my fathers specialty. But I wasn't all that interested in them although I remember noticing how many different species of moss and lichen can grow on one tree trunk in one of the last trips I took with my parents about a year before my father died. He pointed it out to me and showed me how different things grew on different sides of the tree trunks as well as at different heights and on different tree species.
It will give a light yellow colour to wool and silk. There are lichen that will give reds and purples, so yellow isn't all that special, but I love it anyway. It's soft and natural and it goes well with many other colours.
I have been using Icelandic wool (Lopi) to dye, but for the lichens I decided to use alpaca wool. It's so wonderfully soft that it's obscene. I need something soft and warm for this winter.