Christmas Lichen

Christmas Lichens, Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

As Christmas approaches, it seems appropriate to share a few notes on the Christmas Lichen, Cryptothecia rubrocincta, a striking crustose lichen that is widely distributed in the southeastern United States as well as tropical and subtropical areas of the West Indies, Central America, and South America. The specific epithet rubrocincta means “red” and “girdled/encircled”, an apt description of the red and pale green concentric rings of the lichen’s thallus, which are reminiscent of a Christmas wreath. The Christmas Lichen was first described by the German naturalist Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg in 1820.

Christmas Lichens on Bark, Loxahatchee Swamp Forest

The Christmas Lichen does not produce sexual structures (e.g. apothecia) and reproduction takes place via fragmentation of the bright red isidia that proliferate from the center of the thallus.  No other lichen exhibits the flashy red and pale green coloration of the Christmas Lichen.  

While working on my landscape photography book, The Floridas, published by Browntrout Publishers in 2005, I traveled extensively in the Sunshine State, and observed Christmas Lichen on cypress, oak, and Sabal palm tree bark in swamp forests throughout the state. The two photographs above were taken on the swamp boardwalk at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in western Palm Beach County.

Snow is a very rare occurrence in Florida, but the Christmas Lichen proudly displays its Yuletide colors every month of the year in the Sunshine State. 

Wherever you plan to celebrate this holiday season, stay safe, and best wishes for Christmas and the New Year from Ian Adams, Fuji, and Spicer.



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