Autumn is possibly the best time to go out searching for mosses and lichens. As bushes and hedgerows shed their leaves, and damper weather arrives, these organisms become vibrant and increasingly more noticeable. But remember to carry your ‘moss-coloured glasses’ with you, and you can spot mosses and lichens all year around – even in the most unexpected of places. Here’s my year in mosses (and lichen).
When the trees are barest in winter, mosses and lichens stand out as some of the only sources of colour in the landscape. This is when I first took a closer look at them – and it was branches like this that really caught my eye. In a way, they look like a coral reef: encrusted with ruffled greenshield lichen and ‘old man’s beard’; with the softer fronds of feather and bristle moss. Lichens, that could pass as grey, I noticed as having a slightly blue hue. Mosses varied from green to gold. Brightly coloured pyjamas on the sleeping winter trees.
I took these photos on a day in April, just as winter was sweeping into spring. While leaves and blossoms dressed up the trees, mosses and lichens could be still found in the most surprising of places. These are the tops of a row of bollards, which stand in a line on an overgrown verge beside a busy A-road. Each bollard hosted a miniature topography of concrete and pebbles, densely forested with an assortment of mosses. Only a metre or so apart, each stood out as an entirely unique landscape. One of these photos inspired the name of my zine, Miniature Worlds.
Perhaps a little later in the summer, these were taken when I went camping in Cornwall. Coastal regions boast a huge variety of species, often standing out vibrantly against rugged coastal backdrop of headlands and cliffs. The lichen in the left-hand photograph is Xanthoria parietina, also known as yellow scale, shore lichen, or – quite poetically – maritime sunburst lichen. In the bottom-right, another species of lichen, this one lumionous, almost neon. The moss that topped the beached boulders in the top-right photo was as bright and neat as turf on a golfing green.
And so the wheel of the year turns to autumn. At this time of year, other organisms begun to nudge their way through the undergrowth: fungi. As ancient and mysterious, and as integral to the world’s biospheres as moss and lichen, fungi are just as varied and interesting to spot. They are also common bedfellows: moss-covered trunks and branches often provide the perfect habitat for fungi to grow. Here is a small colony of mycena peppering a tree shrouded in feather moss.