ID Tips for Lichen Newcomers

How do you start figuring out lichens if you’re a novice, especially if you have no keys? With 85% of my books, including lichen ID materials, still in storage (long story), I’m thrown on the resources of the internet. Here are a few suggestions for exploring lichen basics (off-site links open in a new window):

Guide to British Lichens on Twigs, with picture key! Click to go to site.

Guide to British Lichens on Twigs, with picture key! Click to go to site.

There is an online lichen key from the UK for 60 British lichens on twigs (from the Natural History Museum at South Kensington); they also have a glossary of terms. To get started, choose whether the lichen is fruticose, foliose, or crustose. (See descriptions at our Shapes and Sizes page if you’re not sure.) You eventually get to a color photo of the lichen. If you get one or more results, don’t assume the species is right, but it might at least point you to a genus to check out. (I got a lot of “no results” on my searches, but I was just making up characters.)

You might try checking photos at Ways of Enlichenment, which does a good job of showing many species in each genus.

Steve Sharnoff offers some lichen basics at his website. He also has lots of photos available that may also be helpful, but this site is focused on North America. Some species, however, are widespread, and many genera are.

If you narrow it down to a few species, you can check whether they occur in your area at this database maintained by the Consortium of North American Lichen Herbaria (CNALH). Their records include specimens from all over the world. If you go to their dynamic map and click on your area (and specify a radius to search), they will generate a checklist that you can also use as an interactive key. Very nice!!

Only the lichen portal at CNALH will give you a detailed description of important characters, but at least the others provide visual references.

Note: Also posted this on iNaturalist as a journal entry.

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