2/22/2012

Old Man's Beard Weather Station

Old Man's Beard lichen indicating a WNW 40 knot gale, 8 on the Beaufort Scale
I don't need the weather person to tell me which way the wind is blowing. I have long, straggly bunches of lichen hanging from an old Douglas-fir in the front yard for that.

Usnea, a common type of lichen, also called Old Man's Beard, grows on tree branches. It is made up of a fungus and an algae in a perfectly cooperative, sustainable relationship that humans would be wise to emulate.

The main body that the partners form is called the lichen's thallus, which is the part we can see. Old Man's Beard has a long, threaded thallus that gives the coastal rain forest a classic, drippy look whether it is raining or not.

Old Man's Beard hangs on a calm day
Usnea is edible (with caution), and has been used medicinally for a thousand years for its anti-bacterial properties, but that is not why I like it. I like it for its use as a 100% natural, accurate, weather station.

When I look out at the storm-twisted Douglas-fir in the yard, and the great strands of greenish-grey lichen hanging from its sweeping branches, I can get all the weather information I need.



Here is what the Old Man's Beard weather station tells me:
  • If thallus is hanging down - calm weather prevails
  • If thallus is blowing horizontally - gale force winds
  • If thalus is wet - raining
  • If thalus is dry - no rain
  • If thalus has light on it - sunny
  • If thalus dies - poor air quality

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