Variation within a lichen species

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This is an essay on ethnolichenology. To return to the main page click here.

People have often noted that not all lichens of the same species are the same, and they can vary in quality depending on where they were growing and when they were harvested. Because of this, people have often traditionally gathered lichens from certain places or at certain times.

Bryoria fremontii was commonly eaten by First People's of Interior B. C., and apparently varied greatly in palatability. The lichen was said to taste different depending on the locality, elevation, and species of substrate tree (Turner 1977; and Marshall 1977, cited in Turner and Davis 1993). Different populations of the lichen would often be tasted to determine which population would be harvested.

The Menomini boiled Sticta glomerulifera into a soup and ate it. Sticta glomerulifera grows on many trees, but the Menomini would only collect it off of hard maple or hemlock trees (Smith 1923: pg. 60).

The Ojibwa boiled Lobaria amplissima and ate it in a soup. They would only collect the lichen if it was growing on white pine (Smith 1932: pg 406; cited in Arnason 1981 and in Yarnell 1964).

Evernia prunastri, Pseudevernia furfuracea, and Lobaria pulmonaria are all used in Europe to produce oleo-resin for perfume. Uphof (1959) records that Evernia prunastri and Pseudevernia furfuracea growing on oak branches are thought to contain the best oleoresin. The species of tree that the Lobaria pulmonaria is growing on is also thought to have much influence on the quality of the oil.

Roccella tinctoria is used to produce Orseille dye in Europe. Lichen that is growing on the Canary and Cape Verde Islands is thought to be the best quality (Uphof 1959).

Some people also thought that the time of year had an effect on the quality of the lichen. Uphof (1959) records that Parmelia saxatilis, a lichen traditionally called crottle and gathered in Scotland for an orange-ish dye, was usually collected in August when it is supposed to be the richest in dye materials. Strickmann (unpublished notes) reports that Chinese herbalists would only gather Usnea diffracta for medicine during the fifth lunar month.

Llano (1944b) reports that Bryoria spp. [Alectoria jubata] and Umbilicaria pennsylvanica were found to vary in protein content depending on the season that they were tested. When Burkholder (1944) tested lichens for antibiotics, he found that the lichens had characteristic antibiotic properties depending on the area that they were collected from.

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