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Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
▪ Leicestershire for example, lost 89 percent of the vulnerable species in its lichen flora and 47 percent overall.
▪ Maybe I was on some damp lichen.
▪ Only a nearby ash tree, which had better buffered bark, retained the lichen.
▪ Subtleties in the texture of the grit, patches brushed clean of lichen, told him where to place his feet.
▪ The triumphant plant, a combination of lichen and cactus, certainly would look weird to the eyes of man.
▪ The walls are black and slimy with lichen and pigeon shit.
▪ Their route became a steep scramble between white boulders speckled with green and grey lichen.
▪ These majestic stones, flecked with orange and white lichen, are the last of thousands that once littered the prehistoric landscape.
The Collaborative International Dictionary

Lichen \Li"chen\ (l[imac]"k[e^]n; 277), n. [L., fr. Gr. leichh`n.]

  1. (Bot.) One of a class of cellular, flowerless plants, (technically called Lichenes), having no distinction of leaf and stem, usually of scaly, expanded, frond-like forms, but sometimes erect or pendulous and variously branched. They derive their nourishment from the air, and generate by means of spores. The species are very widely distributed, and form irregular spots or patches, usually of a greenish or yellowish color, upon rocks, trees, and various bodies, to which they adhere with great tenacity. They are often improperly called rock moss or tree moss.

    Note: A favorite modern theory of lichens (called after its inventor the Schwendener hypothesis), is that they are not autonomous plants, but that they consist of ascigerous fungi, parasitic on alg[ae]. Each lichen is composed of white filaments and green, or greenish, rounded cells, and it is argued that the two are of different nature, the one living at the expense of the other. See Hyph[ae], and Gonidia.

  2. (Med.) A name given to several varieties of skin disease, esp. to one characterized by the eruption of small, conical or flat, reddish pimples, which, if unchecked, tend to spread and produce great and even fatal exhaustion.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

c.1600, from Latin lichen, from Greek leichen, originally "what eats around itself," probably from leichein "to lick" (see lick). Originally used of liverwort; the modern sense first recorded 1715. Related: Lichenaceous.


n. 1 Any of many symbiotic organisms, being associations of fungi and algae; often found as white or yellow patches on old walls, etc. 2 (context figurative English) Something which spreads across something else, causing damage.

  1. n. any of several eruptive skin diseases characterized by hard thick lesions grouped together and resembling lichens growing on rocks

  2. any thallophytic plant of the division Lichenes; occur as crusty patches or bushy growths on tree trunks or rocks or bare ground etc.


A lichen is a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria (or both) living among filaments of a fungus in a symbiotic relationship. The combined life form has properties that are very different from the properties of its component organisms. Lichens come in many colors, sizes, and forms. The properties are sometimes plant-like, but lichens are not plants. Lichens may have tiny, leafless branches ( fruticose), flat leaf-like structures ( foliose), flakes that lie on the surface like peeling paint ( crustose), or other growth forms. A macrolichen is a lichen that is either bush-like or leafy; all other lichens are termed microlichens. Here, "macro" and "micro" do not refer to size, but to the growth form. Common names for lichens may contain the word " moss" (e.g., " Reindeer moss", " Iceland moss"), and lichens may superficially look like and grow with mosses, but lichens are not related to mosses or any plant. Lichens do not have roots that absorb water and nutrients as plants do but like plants they produce their own food by photosynthesis using sunlight energy, from carbon dioxide, water and minerals in their environment. When they grow on plants, they do not live as parasites and only use the plants as a substrate.

Lichens occur from sea level to high alpine elevations, in a very wide range of environmental conditions, and can grow on almost any surface. Lichens are abundant growing on bark, leaves, mosses, on other lichens, and hanging from branches "living on thin air" ( epiphytes) in rain forests and in temperate woodland. They grow on bare rock, walls, gravestones, roofs, exposed soil surfaces, and in the soil as part of a biological soil crust. Different kinds of lichens have adapted to survive in some of the most extreme environments on Earth: arctic tundra, hot dry deserts, rocky coasts, and toxic slag heaps. They can even live inside solid rock, growing between the grains. Some lichens do not grow on anything, living out their lives blowing about the environment. It is estimated that 6% of Earth's land surface is covered by lichen. Colonies of lichens may be spectacular in appearance, dominating much of the surface of the visual landscape in forests and natural places, such as the vertical "paint" covering the vast rock faces of Yosemite National Park.

The fungus benefits from the symbiotic relation because algae or cyanobacteria produce food by photosynthesis. The algae or cyanobacteria benefit by being protected from the environment by the filaments of the fungus, which also gather moisture and nutrients from the environment, and (usually) provide an anchor to it. Lichenized fungus may refer to the entire lichen, or to the fungus growing in it. The lichen combination of fungus with algae and/or cyanobacteria has a very different form ( morphology), physiology, and biochemistry to the component parts growing by themselves. Lichens are said to be "species", but what is meant by "species" is different from what is meant for plants, animals, and fungi, for which "species" implies a common ancestral lineage. Lichens are really combinations of species from two or three different biological kingdoms, so there is no common lineage. By convention, lichens have the same scientific name as the fungus in them, and are not classified according to the species of the algae and/or cyanobacteria growing in them. The alga or cyanobacterium has its own, unique, scientific name ( binomial name). There are about 20,000 known species of lichens. Some lichens have lost the ability to reproduce sexually, yet continue to speciate. Recent perspectives on lichens include that they are relatively self-contained miniature ecosystems in and of themselves, possibly with more microorganisms living with the fungi, algae, and/or cyanobacteria, performing other functions as partners in a system that evolves as an even more complex composite organism ( holobiont). In Auugst 2016, it was reported that macrolichens have more than one species of fungus in their tissues.

Lichens may be long-lived, with some considered to be among the oldest living things. They are among the first living things to grow on fresh rock exposed after an event such as a landslide. The long life-span and slow and regular growth rate of some lichens can be used to date events ( lichenometry). Many lichens are very sensitive to environmental disturbances and can be used in cheaply assessing air pollution, ozone depletion, and metal contamination. Lichens have been used in making dyes, perfumes, and in traditional medicines. Few lichen species are eaten by insects or larger animals, such as reindeer.

Lichen (disambiguation)

Lichen is a type of symbiotic organism.

Lichen may also refer to:

  • Licheń Stary, a village in central Poland
  • Sanctuary of Our Lady of Licheń, a large church at Licheń Stary
  • Licheń, Lubusz Voivodeship, a village in western Poland
  • Lichen planus, an inflammatory disease
  • Lichen sclerosus, a skin disease
  • Lichen simplex chronicus, a skin disease
  • Asphodelus albus, sometimes called white lichen
  • Lichens (musician), Robert Lowe's solo musical project
  • "Lichen", a song by Aphex Twin.

Usage examples of "lichen".

Vivid orchids and wonderful colored lichens smoldered upon the swarthy tree-trunks and where a wandering shaft of light fell full upon the golden allamanda, the scarlet star-clusters of the tacsonia, or the rich deep blue of ipomaea, the effect was as a dream of fairyland.

The forest was dominated by plants that could extract moisture from the air: Lichen coated the gnarled bark of the araucaria trees, and even the low magnolia shrubs dripped with moss.

Could Bex see me for what I was, she would not see a man, but a kind of colonial creature, a mash of life pressed into the niches and fault lines of existence like so much grit and lichen.

Nevertheless, he seemed to know where he was going and made no further attempt to discourage me, and we soon came to a rocky place on the mountainside: an outcropping of huge old stones, some of them larger than the bothy and covered with moss and lichen.

Even with lichens removed, bryophytes is a busy realm, with over ten thousand species contained within some seven hundred genera.

Returning from drear Hell, He chose a lonely seat of unhewn stone, Blackened with lichens, on a herbless plain.

Miyax let go lest she spill her meat, and Kapu rolled head over heels into the lichens.

The ivied walls, and purplish roof lichened yellow in places, the quiet meadows harbouring ponies and kine, reaching from it to the sea--all was mellow.

On the sequestered slopes of the low mountain valleys green mosses once more carpeted the earth, buttercups and dandelions peeped pale golden eyes from the ground, in the teeming crevices of the high promontories delicate green and crimson lichens wove a marvellous lacery, and wherever the sun poured its encouraging springtime light beauteous small star- and bell-shaped flowers burst into an effulgence of pale rose and glistening white bloom.

It was open, but there was little to be seen from it, for immediately opposite rose a high old garden-wall, hiding every thing with its gray bulk, lovelily blotted with lichens and moss, brown and green and gold, except the wall-flowers and stone-crop that grew on its coping, and a running plant that hung down over it, like a long fringe worn thin.

They stood on a high plateau composed mostly of boulders tumbled every which way, covered with lichens and mosses and a dusting of snow.

Epiphytic lichens, ferns, and mosses lived firm-footed on the organic debris that, for centuries undisturbed, had built up in clefts and hollows in the boughs.

Yet here was the past held still and magnified, the gravel thin and dusted with weeds, the strange mossy stain still clinging obdurately to the foot of the front wall like verdigris, climbers taking light from windows, lichen patterning the roof, and the tulip-shaped yew still sporting a ruff of nettles.

In true litmus, the coloring matter results from the action of air and ammonia on orcin during the preparation of litmus from the lichens from which it is made.

More stone monuments dotted the landscapes, ages old, their circular signs eroded by weather or ripicolous lichens.