Leon M. Lederman Science Education Center
Fermilab Flora and Fauna Virtual Exhibit

Prairie Resources -  Exhibit Home

Lichens are mini-ecosystems consistng of two organisms; a fungus and either a green algae or a blue-green bacterium. Many people mistake them for mosses; however, lichens are unique in the plant kingdom. They live in a symbioic relationship-that is, they use and support each other in a way that allows them to live in places they would not be able to live in alone. They are found mostly on wood or rocks. They do not decompose wood, but they do break down rock material over time. They need sufficient sunlight and moisture to thrive.

 There are many thousands of types of lichens, but they are divided into three main groups:


 Lichens are not only fun to observe, but they are also useful in various ways

  • Lichens are very sensitive to air pollution. Because lichens absorb pollutants, scientists often study the number and variety of lichens in an area to determine air pollution levels.
  • Lichens are the main food source for reindeer.
  • Lichens are used to color woolen and tweed materials (see display), and to color animal fat to make candles.
  • Lichens are used in perfume fragrances and cosmetics.
  • Lichens are used in herbal medications and in creams, shampoos, deodorants, and cough medicines.
  • Lichens are one of the ingredients in a mix that helps clean up polluted soils.

Next time you walk in the woods or by some rocks or gravestones, take a magnifying glass and look closely at the beautiful mini~world of LICHENS!