The Fencepost Lichen

Villophora microphyllina – Picketwire Canyon, Otero County, CO.

Greetings in the new year. The blog has been a little quite but it’s time to get back at it. With the heavy snow cover over much of the state it’s not a great time to be searching for lichens, much better to be working through sightings from the past year. However this lichen is actually one that will stick out above the snow. Villophora microphyllina has a few different names out there depending on the reference and was once part of the formerly mighty Caloplaca genus. It can be looked for over much of the state, although from the specimen map on the Consortium of North American Lichen Herbaria (CNALH) site I would guess the eastern plains are a more likely place to find it.

As my title suggests I have exclusively found this species on fenceposts in mostly open country. On a recent drive in Kansas I actually saw a bright orange top to a fence and sure enough it was also this species. I assume this is both due to the lichen’s habitat preference and the fact that a bright orange fence post is easy to see. A little more effort and surely the lichen can also be found on more natural substrates.

Villophora microphyllina – On fence post, Sedgwick County, Kansas

This is an extremely tiny lichen. A good macro photo or hand lens is needed to really see the details in the field. However, in the field the generally grainy look should be obvious. This is due to the numerous soredia. Beware some lookalikes out there where the thallus is entirely soredia and looks like someone spilled a powder. In this species there should be some true margins visible and the thallus more or less continuous. Easier to spot are the bright orange/red apothecia, clearly contrasting with the more dull orange thallus (Note the lichen in the top photo has very few apothecia a sterile specimen would be difficult to ID).

Next time you are out on a country road don’t forget to stop and inspect the fenceposts.

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