Letharia columbiana “Brown-eyed Wolf Lichen”

Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, MT
October 24, 2015
Robert Niese

This species is closely related to the Wolf Lichen that completely coats Ponderosa Pines in our local Missoula valleys, but this species bears large brown-black fruiting bodies (apothecia) unlike its cousin. L. columbiana is definitely one of my favorite species and I was so excited to encounter a huge population of them alongside our more common L. vulpina here in the Rattlesnake. Like most lichen, we still know comparatively little about these organisms and their genetic relationships among one another. With genetic analyses ongoing, we will likely see a revision of our northwest Letharia species in the next decade.

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.