Vulpicida canadensis “Canadian Fox Killer/Brown-eyed Sunshine Lichen”

Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor (BLM), MT
April 23, 2014
Robert Niese


Members of the genus Vulpicida, like Wolf Lichen in the genus Letharia, contain usnic acid and vulpinic acid which gives them their characteristic neon yellow color. Also like Letharia, members of Vulpicida are also somewhat toxic and are associated with some Icelandic and Scandinavian folk tales where they’re used to kill foxes. This species is quite common in our PNW Ponderosa Pinelands and is normally found on small twigs alongside the metallic black lichen, Cetraria merrillii.

Letharia vulpina “Wolf Lichen” on
Pinus ponderosa “Ponderosa Pine” Pinaceae

Mt. Sentinel, Lolo National Forest, MT
September 12, 2015
Robert Niese

Wolf lichen is a striking, extremely abundant lichen in our dry Ponderosa Pinelands here in the PNW. It’s electric yellow-green color comes from a compound produced by the fungus known as vulpinic acid. It is relatively toxic and in ancient Europe concentrated vulpinic acid was traditionally used as a poison for killing wolves (hence it’s common name). Here in the PNW, however, native peoples use the lichen as a dye for fabrics and baskets. You can learn how to make your own dyes from lichens like Letharia here.

Mushroom, Letharia, and Linnaea

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese


Mushrooms are those sorts of organisms that are hopeless to identify without taking samples back home to reference later. This little guy was just too perfectly placed for me to have the heart to pick it. Again, late summer in the Larch forests around Seeley Lake has proven to be excellent for mushroom hunting!

Xanthoria polycarpa “Pincushion Xanthoria”

Council Grove State Park, MT
March 16, 2015
Robert Niese

This lichen is relatively common on the old twigs of Populus and Pinus in open, nutrient-enriched areas (e.g. cow pastures) of the PNW. On angiosperm twigs, they tend to grow in a small pincushion-like form no more than 25mm across.

Ramalina subleptocarpha “Strap Lichen" 

Fort Casey State Park, WA
December 17, 2013
Robert Niese

Strap lichens in the genus Ramalina are relatively abundant and easy to recognize. Most grow on tree bark and have bushy bodies (i.e. a fruticose thallus)

with lots of long, flattened branches. This particular individual is densely covered in soredia (reproductive structures) giving it a coarse, bumpy appearance. This suggests that this individual is severely stressed by local air pollution.

Cladonia sp. “Pixie Cup Lichen”

Olympic National Park, WA
June 6, 2013
Robert Niese

This easily recognizable lichen genus is one of my favorites. The tall cup-like structures for which the group is named are actually modified structures that release spores. Other members of the genus, such as Cladonia cristatella, the British Soldier Lichens, produce a bright red cap on each tall stem instead of a shallow cup.

Caloplaca (biatorina?) "Orange Rock Firedot Lichen" 

National Bison Range, MT
June 8, 2014
Robert Niese

Caloplaca lichens are a relatively abundant, easily recognizable group of lichens here in the PNW. Most orange, crustose lichens growing on rocks in our area belong to this genus. Unfortunately, the genus is impossibly large and making species identifications may require a close analysis of spore morphology.

Rhizocarpon geographicum “Map Lichen" 

Mount Rainier National Park, WA
August 9, 2013
Robert Niese

Map Lichen is an easily recognizable montane species of crustose lichen that can be found throughout the Pacific Northwest. Look for its characteristic yellow thallus with black apothecia (the black dots surrounded by yellow). Individual lichens are bordered by a thick black line (seen clearly in the center left of this image) which makes them look somewhat like delineated countries on a map (hence the name).

Caloplaca luteominia var. bolanderi "Ruby Firedot Lichen"

Missoula, MT
March 14, 2014
Robert Niese

Caloplaca luteominea is a relatively common endolithic species of crust-like lichen. The little red cups that you see here (<1mm in diameter) are actually the reproductive structures (called apothecia) of the fungus. The rest of the organism lives within the rock (endo = within; lithic = rock), between the cracks and grains of the granite.

Larix occidentalis “Western Larch” Pinaceae
with Bryoria sp. “Tree-hair Lichen" 

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

Larch is one of North America’s only deciduous conifers. Here in western Montana, needles are just beginning to turn yellow in mid-September.
Bryoria is a common lichen throughout the PNW and was once a common food source for more than 40 local tribes, in spite of nearly indistinguishable toxic species co-occurring throughout most of their range.