Backpacking through the Grayson Highlands of southwest Virginia, you can’t help but notice the vast display of lichens growing just about everywhere. As lichens are sensitive to atmospheric pollutants, they only thrive in the most pristine environmental conditions. You won’t find many growing in the city.
The fascinating, yet often overlooked, noteworthy feature is lichens are actual a composite of two unique species of organisms, living together in a mutualistic symbiotic relationship. The first organism is fungi, which provides structure, shelter and moisture gathering for the second organism(s), algae and/or cyanobacteria. In turn, the algae and cyanobacteria, through photosynthesis, provide food for the fungi.
This post features Crustose, Foliose and Squamulose lichens. Crustose lichens, seen in the center of the image below, have a encrusting form which spreads over the surface. Foliose lichens, seen above, have leafy lobes which attach by root-like threads to the surface they inhabit. Squamulose lichens have the characteristics of Crustose and Foliose lichens. They can be seen in all three compositions. If you do have lichens in your yard, then please welcome them. They pose no threat to plants and grow very slowly.
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Christmas Tree, oh Christmas Tree! Fraser firs throughout the Appalachian Mountains have been decimated by the balsam woolly adelgid, an aphid like insect. I captured these images on a backpacking trip to Grayson Highlands Virginia with my Boy Scout Troop last September.
This Fraser fir stands as a monument in a large open area between two balds on Wilburn Ridge along the Appalachian Trail. Despite the disparaging loss of so many of these beautiful trees, there is a haunting beauty found in these lingering ghosts.
Ironically, there is a thriving Fraser Fir Christmas tree industry in the surrounding highlands. While short-term chemical treatments protect specimen trees sold to consumers, there are several research efforts underway to develop long-term strategies to protect the Fraser fir. These include development of disease resistant variants which one day could be reintroduced to eastern highland forests.
For the best viewing experience, click on an image to view a high resolution version from my portfolio site. I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah and other holiday observances!
In my previous post, I spoke about the strikingly beautiful landscape at Grayson Highlands. Ironically, part of the character comes from dead or dying frazer firs & hemlocks, which have been decimated by the Asian wooly aphid. Variants of this pest have taken a similar toll throughout Southern Appalachia. Fortunately, most trees were able to produce extensive seedlings before dying. Scientists are not sure how the next generation will fare; research continues. The Tombstone in the Bald image seems to capture the plight of these trees, as well as their ironic contribution to visual landscape.
In the Fraser Fir Composition image, the sun bleached, weathered old wood of a dead fraser makes for a strong visual against the dark, dense foliage of the living firs. I tried a new filter in Exposure 7 which emulates Agfa APX 100 black & white negative film. With some minor adjustments to the filter settings, I get a pleasing boost in contrast, broad tonal range and subtle grain structure. Nice! This filter may replace my go-to Kodak Panatomic-X filter mentioned in previous posts.
Another attraction you’ll find among the balds is herd of wild ponies, they help maintain the open grass areas. Occasionally, you may find cattle also grazing among the balds. Signs in the Grayson Highlands State Park request you not pet or feed the ponies. However, it’s hard to resist as they seem quite comfortable around both humans and Boy Scouts. Wild Ponies at Massey Gapwas taken towards the end of our last backpacking trip in an around the Grayson Highlands State Park.
The last image, Lichen Armour, features a young tree coated with a heavy layer of lichen. Since high school biology, I’ve also been quite fascinated by lichen, which is actually a composite organism formed by a framework of fungus fibers containing algae and/or cyanobacteria all living together in a symbiotic relationship. Pretty cool, eh?