Learning Lichens with Students

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Learning Lichens with Students

  • Lessons developed by Sarah Thorne
  • Funded by: White Mountain Interpretive Association, Kiwanis International,
  • Cooperating organizations: White Mountain National Forest, Prospect Mt. High School, Alton, NH

Learning Lichens in Lesson 1:

  • Students will learn that lichens are:
    • symbiotic pairings of a fungus and alga or cyanobacteria
    • affixed to substrates such as trees and rocks
    • “air plants” without roots or vascular systems, readily absorb pollutants and minerals from rain, fog and air
    • used as bioindicators of air pollutants

Learning Lichens in Lesson 2:

  • Students will be able to compare and contrast lichens, moss, fungi, and vascular plants.
  • Students will learn to recognize these growth forms of lichens:
    • Fruticose
    • Foliose
    • Crustose

Learning Lichens in Lesson 3:

  • Students will develop a research question and inventory lichen in the schoolyard or forest
  • Students will analyze and present their results

Learning Lichens in Lesson 4:

  • Students will apply what they have learned about lichen ecology and biomonitoring to the problem of air pollution
  • Students will write an essay to demonstrate what they have learned

Materials available to teachers:

  • Lesson Summary Table
  • Student worksheets for the 4 lessons
  • Belt transect protocol
  • Learning Lichens with Students PowerPoint, intended for teacher preparation (including photos)
  • How to Conduct a Lichen Inventory (lesson 3) PowerPoint
  • Resource list

Lessons are available online at:

  • www.

Contact information for Sarah Thorne

  • sthorne@pmhschool.com

Lichen ID

  • A challenge, but you don’t have to learn hundreds of species!
  • Photograph the common lichens in your sampling area
  • Find a local lichen expert to confirm your identifications
  • Make photo ID cards for field use by students

Your best ID friend

  • The Macrolichens of New England from The New York Botanical Garden Press, 2007

Lichen neighbors in New Hampshire

  • The following slide gallery shows common NH lichen, and a few tree growing mosses and liverworts for comparison. (photos taken in Holderness and Alton, NH)
  • You can provide these color photos to students for use in their field inventory work.
  • These photos may be used for educational purposes with credit to the photographer.

Fruticose Lichens

  • Shrub-like
  • Branching
  • Hair or beard-like
  • No distinguishable upper and lower surfaces
  • Ramalina sp.
  • Evernia sp. (fruticose lichen)
  • Usnea sp. (fruticose lichen)

Foliose Lichens

  • “leafy” with distinct top and bottom sides
  • can be relatively flat, or raised
  • Thallus mostly free from substrate
  • Punctelia rudecta (foliose lichen)
  • Plasmatia tuckermanii
  • (foliose lichen)
  • Flavoparmelia sp. (foliose lichen)
  • Phaeophysica rubropulchra
  • Parmelia sulcata (foliose lichen)
  • Hypogymnia sp.
  • Hypogymnia sp. (foliose lichen)

Crustose Lichens

  • Flat
  • Grow tightly against substrate
  • No lower side or rhizines
  • Crustose Lichens (many species)


  • Don’t reproduce by seed
  • Lichen often grow with other cryptogams such as mosses and liverworts, which are also non-vascular, having no xylem or phloem

Lichen Imposters

  • But, unlike lichen, mosses and liverworts are primitive plants
  • Students can inventory these as well, if desired
  • liverwort
  • moss
  • Lichen


  • Erect shoots
  • Reproduce with spores
  • Leaf and root-like structures
  • Very green, Chlorophyll throughout
  • Non-vascular
  • Ulota crispa
  • Pylaisiella sp. (flat moss)


  • Radula complanata
  • Frullania sp. (liverwort, center)

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