poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘lichen

songs in the grey woods – northern parula

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A friend, a knowledgeable wetland biologist, has been helping me learn some new bird songs. Last week, I identified the song of the Northern Parula. This is a bird I have never seen, though I scan those tree tops with the binoculars until my arms ache. I have heard its song so many times and always wondered what it was. The song is a long whirrrrr, flowed by a short, upward flipWhirrrr -flip. Whirrrr- flip. This morning it was the first song of the morning bird chorus!


May 20, 2016 'Northern Parula' Jane Tims


It drives me crazy to hear him sing, be able to find the tree he is perched in, but not see him. My painting is how I think he must look, based on descriptions on the net.

The Parula is a blue-grey bird with a yellow throat, and a yellow and white breast. He has a white crescent above and below his eye and two white wing bars. A bright and beautiful bird! He has an association with a lichen I love, Usnea subfloridana, Old Man’s Beard. He uses the lichen to build his hanging nest.


Usnea subfloridana on the snow

Usnea subfloridana on the snow – usually found hanging in our maple, spruce and fir trees


Copyright 2016 Jane Tims


Written by jane tims

May 27, 2016 at 7:00 am

in the shelter of the covered bridge – lichen garden

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April 14 2016 'lichen garden' Jane Tims




Pont Lavoie (Lavoie Covered Bridge)

Quisibis River #2



when the end-post

of the guard rail

splits and rots

the broken space

makes room

for rain and pollen

dust and autumn


other detritus


spores find encouragement

and lichens grow

Cladonia cristatella

uniformed in red

Cladina, blue-grey

reindeer lichen

and pyxie cups


lichens ageless

bridge not meant

to last forever



Copyright  Jane Tims 2016

Written by jane tims

April 20, 2016 at 7:00 am

a moment of beautiful – sun on icy drops of rain

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After the rain overnight and some icy temperatures, the melting ice on the Old Man’s Beard lichen and the ice coat clinging to the branches made for a beautiful scene outside my guest room window. To add to the show, a stray reflection of sun projected dazzles of light on the garage doors.



Copyright 2015 Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

April 12, 2015 at 12:31 am

Posted in a moment of beautiful

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harvesting colour – beautiful brown!

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I will never see brown with the same eyes again!


Today I finished a batch of alum-treated raw wool and I was ready to try my first experiment with dyeing animal fibre.  The alum, you will remember, is a mordant, added to the fibre to increase its colour-fast and light-fast qualities.  In some cases, it also makes the colours brighter.


Remember my gathering of Old Man’s Beard lichen? (


jar with Old Man's Beard lichen, water and ammonia

jar with Old Man’s Beard lichen, water and ammonia


The lichen has been ‘fermenting’ in ammonia about a week and developed a lovely brown colour with tones of orange, reminiscent of root beer.


a sample of the dye obtained from the Old Man's Beard lichen

a sample of the dye obtained from the Old Man’s Beard lichen


I sieved out the lichen and added the dye to my dye pot.  I added a little vinegar to neutralize the alkalinity since basic solutions can harm the wool.  I put about one once of the alum-treated wool into the dye pot and added water, to cover the wool.  Then I increased the temperature very, very slowly since sudden changes in temperature can damage the texture and weaken the fibres.  I left the dye pot on simmer for about an hour and then left it to cool slowly.  Now the wool is drying on the line in my dining room.


The result may seem like an unimpressive brown, but to me it is the most wonderful brown in the world.  Reminds me of the ice cream in a root beer float!  My first effort at dyeing wool, and obtained from a lichen of the palest green.  I feel a poem stirring!


to the right, my lichen-dyed wool, and to the left, my un-dyed alum-treated wool

to the right, my lichen-dyed wool, and to the left, my un-dyed alum-treated wool


Copyright  2014   Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

April 4, 2014 at 6:40 am

air to breathe

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As I approach retirement, I find I am thinking a lot about my past work.  My first job was as a botanist in the field of air quality. 

Some plants are very sensitive to air pollutants and develop ‘herring bone’ patterns on the leaves when the levels of pollutants like sulphur dioxide get too high.   Other plants can be used as monitors since they absorb pollutants from the air. 

I worked to diagnose air pollution injury to sensitive plants and designed ways of using plants to assess air quality problems.  We grew tobacco to measure ozone pollution, set out  ‘tea bags’ of sphagnum moss to monitor levels of trace metals in the air, and collected reindeer lichens to determine their pollutant exposure.  I had wonderful days identifying plants, collecting lichens and being a botanist.

My favourite air pollution monitors were the reindeer lichens.  These are like all lichens, a symbiotic organism consisting of an algae and a fungus.  They have no roots, so they absorb all their nutrients from the air, making them an excellent monitoring system for air pollutants. They were a challenge to identify and the habitats where they grew took me to some very interesting places in New Brunswick.  These included peat bogs where the lichens grew beside pitcher plants and sundews, mountain-tops dominated by ericaceous species like sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia L.) and blueberry, and high flung rock outcrops where I could see all the world below me as I picked my specimens.

Although we collected many species, the three reindeer lichens most useful for our studies were Cladina arbusculaCladina rangiferina, and Cladina stellaris.   These are all ‘fruticose’ lichens, species with a ‘shrubby’ appearance, consisting of a main branch with many side-branches.  A single ‘plant’ fits nicely in your hand.  The Cladinas all have hollow branches and could be (and are) used as little trees in HO scale train models. 

Cladina arbuscula (left) and Cladina rangiferina (right) growing on a rock by the roadside in Maine. You can tell the difference by the greenish color of the arbuscula and the bluish-grey color of the rangiferina.

Cladina arbuscula (Wallr.) Hale & Culb. grows in extensive colonies, and is yellowish-green.  The tips of the branches all point in one direction, a distinguishing characteristic of the species.  Cladina rangiferina (L.) Harm. is often found growing with Cladina arbuscula and can be distinguished from arbuscula by its very blue-grey appearance.

Cladina stellaris (Opiz) Brodo is yellowish-grey, and grows in distinct clumps which resemble small ‘poofy’ trees.

Cladina lichens and moss on the rock at Moss Glen Falls in New Brunswick. The clump of lichen towards the center, looking like the ice cream in a cone, is Cladina stellaris.

On our travels this summer, I reacquainted myself with the Cladinas.  And I remembered all the remote places I have been as a result of my work.  One of these was Turtle Mountain in southern New Brunswick, now protected as part of the Loch Alva Protected Natural Area (PNA).  It is a very old mountain, worn to a granite hill.  At the top of the hill, is an ericaceous meadow where Cladina lichens flourish. 


Turtle Mountain, 1979


afternoon air at the base

of the food chain

rewards obligation to breathe


grazing tickles the nose

and grey-blue lichens know

laurel and balsam


flume of curtain billows

across the daybed

into the room


into the space between

Kalmia and wintergreen

meadow heat rising from stone


marbled weave of oxygen

hydrogen nitrogen

bilberry and salt ocean


© Jane Tims   2011


Written by jane tims

October 29, 2011 at 8:50 am

a place to wait, out of the rain

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My husband and I love to go for drives in the countryside, and we often turn these trips into ‘expeditions for collection’.  For example, in 1992, we began a project to see all the covered bridges in the province; of the more than 60 covered bridges in New Brunswick, we have ‘collected’ about three-quarters.   Recently, we began a quest to see as many waterfalls as possible (the state of my arthritic knees puts the emphasis on the ‘as possible’).

This spring, we set out with a very reasonable goal, to see the three lychgates at Anglican churches in the Diocese of Fredericton (all of the Parishes in New Brunswick are located in the one Diocese).  This idea came from a short article in the New Brunswick Anglican in 1997 by Frank Morehouse (‘Only three lych gates remain in the diocese).  The three lychgates are at St. Anne’s Chapel in Fredericton, St. James Church in Ludlow, and St. Paul’s Church in Hampton.

Lychgates are an architectural remnant of past practice, dating back to the 13th century.  They were used as a part of the funeral service, a place for the priest to meet the body of the deceased on its way to burial, and a shelter for the pall bearers to stand out of the rain.  The word lychgate comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lych meaning corpse.

A typical lychgate is made of wood, and consists of a roof supported by a framework of two or more posts, and a gate hung from the framework.  Lychgates usually stand at the entrance to the church property or the graveyard.  They can be architecturally ornate. 

Today the lychgate is a picturesque feature of the churchyard, but they also create habitat for wild life.  Spiders tuck their webs in the rafters of the structure where they are safe from wind and rain.  The shingled roof of a lychgate is often a place where lichens and mosses can grow without competition from other plants.

Our collection of lychgates at Anglican churches in New Brunswick is complete.  We found the lychgate in Fredericton on a rainy day in April… 

lychgate at St. Anne's Chapel in Fredericton, on a rainy day

… the Ludlow lychgate on a hillside in early July…

lychgate at St. James Church, Ludlow
…and the lychgate in Hampton beside the church and a very old graveyard in August.

lychgate at St. Paul's Church, Hampton... green lichen on the lychgate roof and orange lichen on the stone wall


a place to wait, out of the rain


as if the rain matters

all of us drenched in tears

best for this to be

a grey day

heaven opened

for two way passage


the Sentences encourage me

to lift my eyes

and in the rafters of the lychgate      a spider

spinning its web


as if it were a tale that is told

about a roof that protected me

the sun shall not burn thee by day,

 neither the moon by night

neither the rain


(quotations in the poem are from The Book of Common Prayer, ‘The Order for the Burial of the Dead’,  Canada, 1962)

© Jane Tims 2011

Written by jane tims

August 27, 2011 at 10:07 am

‘niche’ on a rock

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In July, we went to the Saint Martins area  for the day and spent some time exploring the caves and beach-combing.  We  also took the short drive to the lighthouse at Quaco Head.  The lighthouse is perched on the cliff overlooking Quaco Bay. 

the Quaco Head Lighthouse ....... “The present Quaco Head Lighthouse was constructed in 1966 and consists of a square tower rising from one corner of a concrete fog signal building. The light in its lantern room produces a white flash every ten seconds, while the fog signal emits a three-second blast every thirty seconds, when needed.” from

If you look out over the Bay, you can see some exposed rocks where sea birds make their home, and,  to the north-east, Martin Head, about 30 kilometers away.

the view to the north-east ...... Martin Head is on the horizon, to the left

Wildflowers were everywhere, but what caught my eye was a lichen on a flat rock at the base of the lighthouse.  It was bright orange, like a splash of paint. 

There are two orange lichens that live on rocks in the coastal area of New Brunswick, Xanthoria and Caloplaca.  The orange lichen I found at Quaco Head is likely one of two species: Xanthoria sorediata (Vain.) Poelt or Xanthoria elegans (Link) Th. Fr.

bright orange Xanthoria lichen on a rock .... there are also two or more other species of lichen present

A lichen is not a plant, but a composite organism, consisting of an algae and a fungus, living together in a symbiotic, mutually beneficial, relationship.



                       Swallow Tail Lighthouse, Grand Manan


air saltfresh and balsam

walls lapped by a juniper sea

pale mimic of the salt sea

battering its foundations

                      its endurance

                      a mystery

until I found

an iron ring

anchored deep

in rock

almost lost

in lichen

                  Xanthoria orange

lifted and dropped

run round

its axis

                  clashing on stone

                  creak and clank of the metal door

                  echoes climbing the welded stair

                  ground glass grit of the light 

                  fog washed clang of the channel bell

rock lashed to the lighthouse

salt breakers turned to stone


Published as: ‘Ringing’, Spring 1995, The Cormorant XI (2)


© Jane Tims

‘niche’ above the ground

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Around us are spaces so familiar, we don’t pay attention to them anymore.  I remember this when I walk in the woods near our house.  On the ground, at my feet, are layers of leaves from last autumn, the carpet of mosses, the plants of the understory. 

And then I remember to look up and see the space above me. 

This space is the realm of the trees.  It is a space shaped by their canopies, the needles of the Balsam Fir and White Pine, the leaves of Red Maple, and the dead branches and twigs of the spruce.  Most of the trees reach upward, roughly perpendicular to the ground.  They stand together, parallel, the masts and rigging of a sailing ship.  Others have succumbed to decay and gravity and wind, and have fallen.  Their trunks make diagonal slashes through the spaces above and leave gaps in the canopy.

snowshoe trail and sap bucket on maple

These are spaces I cannot access, since my tree-climbing days are over.  But I can move there, briefly, in winter.  When the snow builds on the ground, it lifts me into the trees.  I am reminded of this when I see the empty tap holes in the trunks of the maples along the trail.  These are the holes left behind when we pull the taps at the end of maple syrup production in the spring.  When we collected the sap, the taps were about three feet above the surface of the snow, so we could access them easily.  Now, snow gone, the tap holes are above my head.  Our snowshoe paths were elevated into the space above the ground.  One winter the snows were so high, we had to trim the branches along the trail.  Next summer we could look up and see our winter path, traced by the absence of branches in the space above our heads. 

There is no soil up there in the above ground space, but there are many species who occupy this challenging ‘niche’.  White-throat sparrows sing “I love Canada, Canada, Canada” from the tree tops, ghostly grey spruce budworm moths flicker through the canopy, and the lichen Old Man’s Beard (Usnea subfloridana) droops from the dead branches of the older conifers. 

Usnea subfloridana Stirt. is a lichen often found growing on old and stressed trees in coniferous woods. The common name, Old Man's Beard, refers to the matted, stringy appearance of the lichen, hanging in clumps from tree branches. Lichens are made up of two species, an algae and a fungus, living together symbiotically.

Old Man’s Beard is my favourite space-maker in the canopy.  It hangs, light as thistledown, gathering the moisture it needs from the fog and rain, absorbing nutrients from the air, creating a home for insects and tiny spiders in need of shelter.  It paints the spaces with strokes of palest green.   
Old Man’s Beard transforms the spaces it occupies.  On the road between Saint John and Fredericton (New Brunswick, Canada) is a well-known picnic site and escarpment, called Eagle Rock.  The climb above the parking area  is steep, but at the top of the cliff the terrain flattens in an old growth of spruce and fir.  The ground is thick with reindeer lichen, Cladina rangiferina and Cladina arbuscula, and the trees are draped in Old Man’s Beard.  The effect is a frosted forest, as though these spaces were eternally in winter.  And I am lifted into the ‘niche’ above the ground.
Next time you are outside, look up.  What is in the space above you?  What are its qualities?  How does it shape your life?


Old Man’s Beard     

             Usnea subfloridana Stirt.

you and I

years ago

            forced our ways

            bent through the thicket

            of lichen and spruce


                        caught in your beard

                        and we laughed


                                    us with stooped backs

                                    and grey hair?

            found a game trail

                        a strawberry marsh

                                    wild berries 

                                                crushed into sedge

                                                stained shirts


                                    and fingers


                                    dusted with sugar

                                                washed down with cold tea

                                                warmed by rum


an old woman


lost her way in the spruce

found beard

            caught in the branches

and cried


Published as: ‘Old Man’s Beard’, Summer 1994, the Fiddlehead 180

© Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

August 2, 2011 at 5:19 pm

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