Article Published: Sep. 6, 2012 | Modified: Sep. 6, 2012
What is the colorful plant growing on the trees at Bass Lake? — Wanders but Not Lost
The patchy and multicolored organism growing on tree bark along the Blue Ridge Parkway is not entirely a plant.
This organism, known as lichen, develops due to a symbiotic relationship between fungus and either algae or bacteria.
Often misidentified as moss, lichen can be found in a multitude of shades, including green, blue, orange and white.
Lichen is a favorite treat of white-tailed deer and many other animals.
This organism is a useful tool in analyzing an ecosystem, as it is a great indicator of healthy air quality.
In addition to growing on tree trunks, lichen can also be found commonly on various minerals.
Lichen is a decomposer and has a unique ability to break down living and nonliving things back into soil.
Nutrients in the soil can then be used by younger plants and animals as a food source. However, even though this process is taking place, lichen is not harmful to the trees along the parkway.
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Ranger Joshua Sweet is an interpretive park guide for the Blue Ridge Parkway at Linville Falls. He is a Leave No Trace master educator and a wilderness first responder. Before moving to North Carolina, he lived in Northern Minnesota, where he taught environmental science to fifth- and sixth-grade students.