poetry and prose about place

lichens on the snow

with 2 comments

As you may know, we are still under a blanket of snow here in New Brunswick.  And later today a Nor’easter is predicted to bring another 30 cm.  Not the best place for collecting plants as dyestuff.  But, as I always find – nature provides!

Our windy weather this past week has dropped lots of Old Man’s Beard lichen (Usnea subfloridana) along our driveway.  These lichens grow in the maple and spruce trees on our property but usually they grow too high to reach.  I was able to collect quite a handful.

And now my experiment begins.


Usnea subfloridana on the snow


Lichens have been used for centuries as a source of dye.  The Roccella species, for example, makes a purple dye called orchil.  I may not get purple from my Usnea lichens, but I am ‘dyeing’ to try!


lichens ... will they make a dye?


The typical extraction process for lichens is called ‘ammonia fermentation’ – soaking the lichens in ammonia for two or three weeks.  Lichens also yield dye with boiling.  I have decided to try the ammonia method first, although I will not use urine as was traditionally done!


lichens in a jar ... plus a little ammonia


So I stuffed the Usnea lichens into a canning jar, added water and a tablespoon of ammonia, labelled the jar and put it on the shelf.


now we wait


And now we wait.  I’ll let you know what, if any, colour develops.  I feel like a housewife of old, wanting some dyestuff to add colour to my life, willing to make do with what is available.


Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

March 26, 2014 at 7:05 am

2 Responses

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  1. I had never seen or heard of Old Man’s Beard until my visit to New Brunswick. I took a lot of (very bad) photos of it when we were hiking in Fundy National Park. I was reminded of Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) which, I see upon looking it up, is not related at all (it’s not a moss or lichen, but a bromeliad). There is a lot of Spanish Moss in the coastal regions of the southern U.S., and it’s beautiful draped across Live Oaks and Bald Cypress. I did know from some vast somewhere (I read a lot) that urine was used in dyes, and wondered if you’d go that route. Easier to just buy ammonia these days. Looking forward to seeing what your experiment produces. 🙂



    March 26, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    • Hi Robin. I’ve never seen Spanish Moss although it’s draping of the trees has made me want to visit the south east states someday. I looked at my jar of lichen and ammonia today and it has darkened and produced a dark maroon colour in the water. Waiting the two to three weeks will be hard. You are right, a bottle of ammonia sounds better than using urine!!! Jane


      jane tims

      March 27, 2014 at 1:46 pm

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