I'm lichen it: Rare lichen discovered near Lewes.

, 24 February 2016
I'm lichen it: Rare lichen discovered near Lewes.
Golden eyes / Zoe Watson

Stephen and Zoe Watson were amazed by this lichen they found on a hawthorn bush at Landport Bottom near Lewes last week. The great photos they sent me looked like they were holiday snaps from Mars.

(Photo by Zoe Watson)

There's a few different species of lichen in the pictures but the one they were most excited about is that tangerine disc surrounded by golden-green 'eyelashes'.

It's a lichen called Golden eyes Teloschistes chrysophthalmus. Until very recently this lichen was extremely rare in Britain but over the past few years it has been turning up around southern England. Golden eyes was discovered on a branch near Woodingdean in December 2012 and at that time it was the first sighting of this lichen in Sussex since the 19th century. Since then it has been found at more sites across Sussex. Have a search on the south side of isolated hawthorn and blackthorn bushes and you may strike gold.

Considering that lichens cover 8% of the land’s surface it’s amazing that we hardly notice them but next time you’re out stop and look around. You’ll be overwhelmed – lichens are everywhere. They're the Banksys of the natural world and bring their anarchic wildlife graffiti into our unnatural urban landscape; disrupting the dull uniformity of brickwork and concrete with a dazzling diverse range of patterns, shapes, textures and colours. Luminous yellow and orange crusts radiate across roofs, walls, benches and fences. Bare branches and bark are festooned with green lichen lobes. Even the concrete and the clay beneath your feet is covered with the white splodges of lichens which resemble trampled chewing gum. Once you start looking an invisible world of lichens will materialise and you’ll feel like grabbing the nearest person by the lapels and, wild-eyed, yell “They’re everywhere– can’t you see? We’ve been invaded!”.

The secret behind their success is that each lichen is made of two different organisms – a fungus and an alga. The alga can photosynthesise and provides the food that fuels the fungus while the fungus gives the structure and protection which allows the alga to function. The fungus is the Lennon to the alga’s McCartney; working together they create something amazing and enduring.

Thank you to Stephen and Zoe for sending in the photos. We'd certainly be interested in hearing of any golden eyes seen elsewhere in Sussex.

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