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When Life Gives You Lichen

When Life Gives You Lichen

Pick Up Fallen Sticks and Make a Local Lichen Wreath!

Since Cape Cod has clean, moist air, lichen thrives on our trees, shrubs, and rocks. Some types of lichen grow right on top of sandy soils, especially in some woodlands. Lichen is not moss. Instead, lichen is a composite organism that arises from a mutualistic relationship between algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi species. It is a great example of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole, since lichen’s properties are different from the elements of the organisms that it’s made of.

Here’s the bottom line: lichen isn’t hurting the trees or shrubs it grows on. People often notice it on trees that are weak or dying, but the lichen isn’t what is causing the plant to deteriorate. Lichens tend to grow more on trees with a thin canopy or on dead branches since they get more sunlight in those areas. Lichens photosynthesize, so they often prosper where there is more sun.

Since we’ve had several wind storms lately, many have lichen covered sticks all over their lawn. We’re here to suggest that these make lovely wreaths, and add a local character to swags and outdoor holiday arrangements. Here’s how you can create your own lichen wreath.

You need a spool of florist wire and a double or triple ring wreath form. (The sticks won’t be firm on a single ring wreath form.) Pruners and wire cutters are the tools you will use. Note: the lichen is easiest to work with if it’s a bit damp, since water makes it soft. If your branches have dried out, spray them with water about an hour before you make the wreath.
Begin by putting four sticks that are about equal in length in these positions. These will guide you and determine how large the wreath will be.
Cut or break the sticks you’ve collected into lengths. Some should be slightly shorter than the four pieces you started with, and some should be up to four inches longer. Thin, multi-branched twigs will look good if they are slightly longer.
We use wire to assemble such a wreath because it will last outdoors better than glue from a glue gun. Lichen swells and becomes larger and softer in moist air outside, and because it plumps up with the water glue isn’t as long lasting. Wire just rusts in the moist air, and pretty much disappears under the fuzzy lichen. Use lengths of wire to attach your four “compass point pieces” to the frame.
Start at one point and begin adding twigs, wiring each one on. I found it fastest to cut a piece of wire that was two to three feet long, and use that for several branches. Work the wire slightly into or under the lichen so it doesn’t show much. Alternate the types of branches…a thick straight stem next to a couple thin, crooked ones, for example.
Work your way around the circle, cutting new lengths of wire as they are needed.
Here is how the wreath looked once I hung it outside in the moist air. You’ll notice that the color of the lichen changes when it’s raining or the air is very moist. This is a wreath that should be hung outside, since the lichen is much larger and more beautiful when it periodically gets wet.
I decided that these galvanized bows we sell in the store were the perfect rustic touch for this wreath. It’s nice to have the hard surface that contrasts with the soft lichen. Additionally, a galvanized bow will last in all types of weather!
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