Cladonia bellidiflora

Richard Droker (aka wanderflechten@Flickr) took this stunning photo of a Cladonia bellidiflora lichen growing on a mossy rock located along Washington state’s Snoqualmie Pass. The colours on this photo are remarkable. Richard explains that the colour is nearly as it was in the field, but that he achieved his excellent focus through focus stacking using Zerene Stacker software. For more about this process, visit Richard’s original post.

Cladonia bellidiflora goes by the common name toy soldier, arising from the bright red apothecia (cup or saucer shaped fruiting body) that sit atop their podetia (stalk-like outgrowths). Like a tin soldier’s red hat, apothecia are all show and little purpose; they are reproductive structures that allow the fungus to disperse through spores, but for a lichen, this is not terribly helpful. Lichen reproduction requires that the fungus and alga disperse together, since most of the time, fungal spores don’t land close enough to an alga to form the symbiosis that results in a new lichen.

The most common way for Cladonia species to reproduce is likely through the breaking off of squamules, which are the leaf-like scales that you can see clearly in today’s photo. The squamules contain both fungi and algae, and when a squamule is carried to a suitable site–perhaps by animals, wind, gravity, or water–the lichen is able to regenerate and produce a new thallus, or main body. There are a number of other ways in which Cladonia bellidiflora and other lichen species can reproduce, and these are explained on the Images of British Lichens website. Interestingly, in any case, only the fungus in a lichen has the opportunity to reproduce sexually, as sexual reproduction of the algal partner is suppressed in lichens.

Cladonia bellidiflora

8 responses to “Cladonia bellidiflora”

  1. Denis

    ‘Toy Soldier’?
    I know it’s a bit long, but I find Cladonia bellidiflora ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Moss’ to irresistible to pass up. But, I guess the cute route only works for the horticulture trade.

  2. Denis

    * “too”

  3. Helen Pressley

    I think it looks a bit like too bright lipstick!

  4. Alice

    Is this the same one that also goes by the moniker ‘British Soldiers’?

  5. michael aman

    My grandparents called it ‘British soldiers’ too. Perhaps they were the last generation to feel a visceral reaction to occupying British soldiers. Today’s teenagers wouldn’t have a clue what we were referring to.

  6. Keith Nevison

    The squamules of Snoqualmie Pass. Hard to forget that!

  7. Tamara Bonnemaison

    Yes, this species is also known as ‘British soldiers’. As for ‘lipstick lichen’, a closely-related species, Cladonia macilenta, already goes by that moniker. I don’t know of any species that go by the name ‘Rudolph’, but given that Cladonia is a staple food of reindeer, it might be an apt fit.

  8. Richard Droker

    I think fertile lichen mycobionts would not be investing so much of their resources in sexual reproduction if it were not effective. One way this might be achieved is by belonging to guilds, as discussed by Rikkinen et al., 2002 – Lichen Guilds Share Related Cyanobacterial Symbionts, Science 19 July 2002: 357 (see illustration at ‎
    The dispersal ecology of cyanolichen guilds may center around “core species,” such as N. parile and P. triptophylla, that produce massive amounts of symbiotic diaspores. “Fringe species,” such as N. bellum and N. resupinatum, produce only fungal spores and may largely depend on the core species for the dispersal of appropriate cyanobionts. Only a small proportion of symbiotic propagules can develop into mature lichen thalli. Many diaspores land on suboptimal substrates, eventually disintegrate, and release their cyanobionts. These cyanobionts may be salvaged by the mycobionts of fringe species. Core species may also benefit from this activity, as their cyanobionts are deposited into other guild members rather than being completely lost. Some of the cyanobionts can potentially be reclaimed because, without the ability to produce symbiotic diaspores, fringe species cannot “grab the cyanobionts and run.” These phenomena may help to explain why the existence of competition is often difficult to demonstrate in lichen communities (5).

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