Garden blogs

New Lichen Exhibition Planned for 2021


Before the coronavirus came along, I was due to meet and talk to the Botanic Garden’s Stitching Botanical group about lichen.

Lichen expert Theresa Greenaway was to come and give a talk and walk about lichens and the group was to decide what kind of project they’d like to do on the subject.

That meeting was obviously cancelled. But earlier today I spoke to Stitching Botanical organiser Marilyn Caruana and we’ve agreed to offer the group a chance to exhibit in the Garden’s Oriel Yr Ardd Gallery in February-March 2021.

The subject focus is …. lichen.

These fascinating life-forms have baffled and bemused me yet have also beguiled me. There are over a thousand different species in Wales and most are ridiculously hard to tell apart. But you can’t ignore them. Wales, for its unit area, has the highest diversity of lichen species in the world. 

Go outside and lichens are everywhere. On trees, walls, buildings, chairs, stones, lampposts, gravestones, metal and old bones of sheep. I even found lichen growing on an old sign in the Garden’s Slate Beds – I knew it was time to update the sign!

Look closely and you’ll notice that they come in a wide variety of colours – some even seem to glow in the winter, others diagnostically change colour when chemicals are added. Their shape and form vary enormously – experts call their forms crusty, leafy and shrubby.  Some look evocative of lungs, matchsticks or ancient forms of writing. Others dry up and contract when dry, and restore when it rains.

Lichens can be very sensitive to pollution. Many of Wales’ larger lichens, the lungworts, have almost disappeared due to acid rain, whilst in cities, air pollution killed off all but the ones who actually thrived with high levels of sulphur.

For the ‘Inspired by Lichens in Our Garden’ exhibition, I’d like you, the Stitching Botanical group, to depict lichen in any form of textile that you choose.

Your depiction could anything from 2 or 3 dimensional studies of scientific detail or a direct representation of particular lichen through enlarged forms to abstract interpretations. You could stitch lichens onto actual pieces of wood or stitched depictions of wood and stone or whatever. You can obviously talk this through with Marilyn.

Ideally, I’d like you to depict lichens that grow in the National Botanic Garden of Wales, much like you did with your hugely successful Fungi in Fibre exhibition 3-4 years ago. Your work helped enormously in not only raising the profile of fungi here but also reached and enthused people who had no knowledge or interest in fungi before. I hope it also gave some of you a lifetime’s interest in fungi too.

Luckily, the Garden has been studied, and supported by some of Wales’ foremost lichenologists.  Ray Woods and Theresa Greenaway have co-authored booklets on the Garden’s Rock and Tree Lichen whilst Ray has successfully conserved some of the Wales’ rarest lichen on an old willow tree on the lower slopes of our Wild Garden. Please have a look at the Garden’s Lichen page

From here you can see and download the booklets on rock and tree lichen, along with a list of lichen species recorded in the Garden in 1997 by the National Museum’s lichen expert, Alan Orange.  Each  booklet highlights 8-10 lichen species and you might find that one of these could be your focus.

This other website link also takes you a short film of Ray Woods talking about lichen on our Rock of Ages display

When it’s all safe enough for us to meet again, Theresa Greenaway will come in an explain what an actual lichen is and help you to understand what you’re looking at. The fact that a lichen is made up of two symbiotic lifeforms – a fungus and an alga or cyanobacteria or both – is crazy enough to be going on with. So I won’t say much more for now apart from happy stitching.

Bruce Langridge

Head of Interpretation, National Botanic Garden of Wales