Scientific Name: Usnea or
From hike to Mt Hebo 4/23/15 H373
Witch's Hair has long been used by Northwest Natives as a source of fiber,
for example for diapers and bandages. It was used on dance masks as false hair,
and ponchos and footwear were woven from it, although considered inferior to hides for this purpose.
Ref: Slater museum of natural History - University of Puget Sound
Usnea is a genus of mostly pale grayish-green fruticose lichens
that grow like leafless mini-shrubs or tassels anchored on bark or twigs.
The genus is in the Parmeliaceae family. It grows all over the world.
Members of the genus are commonly called tree's dandruff,
woman's long hair, or tree moss, old man's beard, or beard lichen.
It resembles Evernia, which is also called tree moss.
A lichen is a combination of a fungus and an algae
or a combination of a fungus and a cyano-bacteria).
The two different life forms live
in a symbiotic (that is mutually beneficial)
relationship. The combined life form is what we call a lichen.
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.
There are about twenty thousand different species of lichen.
Some lichens are plant-like (but lichens are not plants -
(plants are an entirely different life form).
Lichens may have tiny, leafless branches (fruticose),
flat leaf-like structures (foliose),
flakes that lie on the surface (crustose),
or other growth forms.
Lichens may superficially look like, and grow with, mosses,
but lichens are not related to mosses.
Lichens, mosses, fungi, and plants are different biological Kingdoms,
that is, different life forms in the tree of life.
Lichens do not have roots that absorb water and nutrients as plants do.
Instead lichens produce their own food from sunlight,
air, water, and minerals in their environment.
While lichens may grow on plants,
they do not live as parasites that take nutriants from the plants.
Instead lichens merely use the plants only as a substrate.
Some recent scientific studies have shown that lichens
are relatively self-contained miniature ecosystems in and of themselves,
with more microorganisms living with the fungi, algae, and/or cyano-bacteria,
each performing other functions as partners in a system that
evolves as an even more complex composite organism (holobiont).
Witches Beard is a very important food for deer and elk.
They can eat this when other food sources are covered by snow.
This lichen also helps fertilize the larger trees in the forest
Lichens have the ability to fix nitrogen directly from the atmosphere.
This is why they are so helpful to forest ecosystems.
When lichen fall to the ground they fertilize the forest floor
with nitrogen which is very important neutrient for trees in the forest.
Each year, lichens can add 2-4 kilograms of nitrogen per acre.
Witch’s Hair was used by Northwest Natives as a source of fiber.
It was used on dance masks as false hair,
Ponchos and footwear were woven from it.
It was also used for diapers and bandages.
The scientific names is: Alectoria sarmentosa
has the following meaning:
Alectoria means "unmarried"
This problably refers to the fact that
that the primary way witch's hair propagates is that when small pieces
are blown off a branch and land on another one it grows.
Alectoria sarmentosa is sensitive to air pollution
and it can be used for air quality monitoring.
Lichens come in a wide variety of forms.
Some weeks ago while hiking on the Salmon River,
I found wht I thought was a lichen.
With the help of some knowledgeable friends,
I was able to identify the specimen as
Interestingly Lichenomphalia umbellifera is a lichen
What I had found was the fruiting body of a very special lichen.
Click on a thumbnail to enlarge