While they are around all year, it seems like the fall is the most common time of year to find Elegant Orange lichens, Xanthoria elegans.
A lobe lichen, not a crust
There are 7 growth forms of lichens: dust, crust, scale, leaf, club, shrub and hair. Elegant Orange look like a crust lichen, but are in fact a leaf lichen. They have lobes that are thick and lumpy. Crusts adhere to the surface, and can be tough to remove. Lobe types have a single base that is the holdfast, and pop off the rock surfaces easily.
As we note elsewhere, lichens are fungi that have take up farming algae. But in the case of Xanthoria, their close relationship with the rock they are on and their environment ramps up the coolness even further. Xanthoria love their limestones, or more importantly, love the calcium in the rock they live on. You can even find Xanthoria on really old, exposed large animal bones. Since K-Country has a lot of limestone, we also have a lot of Xanthoria.
Where birds live
Add a bit of nitrogen from bird or animal droppings and they are in paradise. The nitrogen helps the lichen grow, and the acidity of the droppings or urine partially dissolves the rock and frees more calcium for them. It is common in the high country here to find Xanthoria on high, prominent rocks where birds perch. Pictured at right is a Gray Crowned Rosy-Finch on what is obviously a favourite perch. You can also find Elegant Orange lichen on rocks that are frequented by Pika or Marmots.
Like all lichens, they grow VERY slowly, on the order of 0.5 mm per year. There are several Xanthoria species here, but by far the most common is Elegant Orange, also called Rock Orange.
Find out more about some of the cool fungi of K-Country here!