It’s an iridescent green, so almost glows in the dark in the forest. Wolf Lichen is easy to find, identify and see all year round. It’s particularly fond of dry wood that has no bark, and really likes Douglas Fir trees.
Not that we recommend eating any plants in K-Country, but this one really needs to be avoided. It’s rich in vulpinic acid, which is bright yellow and gives Wolf Lichen it’s colour. That makes it toxic to any meat-eating mammal, and insects as well. Interestingly, it is not toxic to mice nor hares, and like most lichens, is eaten by ungulates such as deer and elk.
We humans took advantage of Wolf Lichen’s toxicity in olden times. In Northern Europe in the late 1750’s, this lichen was used to poison wolves, which is how it got it’s name. It would be mixed with ground up glass or blood, or with animal fat and nails, with deadly results to wolves and foxes. It’s Latin name Letharia vulpina literally translates as “Deadly to foxes”.
Indigenous people took advantage of Wolf Lichen to make dyes to colour clothes, and also to make face paints. Some central US tribes used it to make a poultice for swelling, bruising & bleeding.
Unlike Usnea or Bryoria, Wolf Lichen doesn’t tend to grow very big, so is seen as small and possibly numerous tufts. It is very tolerant of cold temperatures. Like all lichens, it has an outer fungus and inner algae that live in symbiosis. The fungal exterior of Wolf Lichen can rapidly create conditions conducive to algal activity literally within minutes of being exposed to sunshine or warmth, and can do so at sub-zero temperatures.
Meet more of the fascinating lichens and fungi of K-Country here!