Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Lichens at Enchanted Rock

with 43 comments

Yesterday you heard that on April 12th we visited Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.
How about the red-orange color of the lichens in the abstract view above?
Below, see the way pale gray lichens almost completely covered the rock in the foreground.

And here’s little lichen ring you can slip on your rough imagination’s finger:

For a concise and colorful primer on lichens, check out “Why Lichens Matter.” As for what makes matter matter, the answer is existence. An English-language etymologist would add that matter, which traces back to mater, the Latin word for ‘mother,’ is the universe’s ‘mother stuff.’

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 25, 2021 at 4:46 AM

43 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. The first picture I especially like. So simple, but very effective.


    April 25, 2021 at 4:54 AM

    • I’m a long-time fan of abstractions. I might well have let the first picture stand on its own except for the fact that I’m so backlogged with photographs. That’s why I’ve been showing more than one at a time recently.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 25, 2021 at 6:48 AM

  2. Nice photos, the first one could pass for an Andy Goldsworthy artwork. “Why Lichens Matter” is great, the artwork on the 2nd page is beautiful. It appears to be a poster. I showed Nigel and he said he’d like to have it on his wall!

    Ms. Liz

    April 25, 2021 at 5:20 AM

    • You’re right that the creators of “Why Lichens Matter” intended it as a poster. I guess people are expected to read the informative side and then display the artwork on the other side. I searched but didn’t see any way Nigel could order a copy of the poster.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 25, 2021 at 7:00 AM

  3. Close examination of the detail as in the last photo is what I love about viewing lichen. There are many colors, shapes and textures to appreciate. We have the Wichita Mountains not so far away, that represent the same red-orange colors, and masses of lichen-covered rocks like we see in your first two images. Even in winter, lichen can be seen in spectacular color and mass. I did not know that deer eat various lichen.


    April 25, 2021 at 7:03 AM

    • That surprises me: you who have raised so many deer weren’t aware that deer eat various kinds of lichens. Now that you are aware of it, I wonder whether you’ll see any of your deer doing that.

      The little ring of lichen shown last was the first thing of any kind that I stopped to photograph as we walked the trail from the parking lot to begin ascending the great dome.

      Your mention of the Wichita Mountains sent me to a map. I don’t believe I’ve ever been to that part of Oklahoma. Our most recent trip took us up through the Panhandle, and previous trips had us going no farther west than Oklahoma City. Maybe on a future visit….

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 25, 2021 at 7:18 AM

  4. I agree with rabirius, great clouds, too, in the first shot.
    Haven’t read a lot about lichens, I was wondering about the orange color, and when I looked it up, wow, lots of complicated terminology, but some of it’s pretty fun. “Crustose” seems pretty appropriate, since it’s crusty-looking, and kind of fractious, since it’s breaking up the rock over time, and “Squamulose” sounds like a Native American term. “Leprose” on the other hand, is a bit off-putting.

    Robert Parker

    April 25, 2021 at 7:03 AM

    • Crustose: isn’t that the way old geezers are sometimes described? Or maybe that’s crusty. Or is it cantankerous. Are there cantankerous lichens? Or maybe the super rich, the upper crust, are really crustose. You’d better watch out or the word police will come after you for suggesting squamulose has any connection to Native Americans.

      When we spent a whole day at the Field Museum in Chicago five years ago we discovered that the museum has a room dedicated to lichens (or maybe it was lichens and fungi). The museum’s website says its “lichen collection consists of 52,000 specimens, including 1,405 types, and ranks sixth nationally.” As Milwaukee isn’t far from Chicago, you might want to check out that room in the Field Museum.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 25, 2021 at 7:27 AM

  5. how very interesting these are –


    April 25, 2021 at 7:34 AM

    • I’ve long found lichens fascinating. They’s provided me with many pictures over the years, and presumably will keep on doing so.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 25, 2021 at 8:05 AM

  6. It occurs to me that in any argument about the Earth’s value, we could call your rocks and lichens as material witnesses.

    A connection that came to mind immediately is the one between your first, abstract photo and this pile of corn I photographed on my last trip to Kansas. I never would have thought that a lichen-covered rock and a corn pile could appear to be so similar, but there it is.


    April 25, 2021 at 8:36 AM

    • On the other hand, sometimes the details make the difference, as with html tags.


      April 25, 2021 at 8:38 AM

    • Your first sentence is indeed material to the subject.

      Is what’s shown in your linked photo the Corn Pop we heard so much about in the last election? That flippancy aside, I see the similarity you saw in the two pictures. It’s a new kind of convergent evolution. As for style, viva abstraction, right?

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 25, 2021 at 10:56 AM

  7. At first I thought the reference by @littlesundog was to the Ouachita National Forest (https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/ouachita/home) which is Southeastern Oklahoma and Western Arkansas. We stopped at a rest stop on our way back from visiting relatives near Oklahoma City some years ago, and just happened to be there as the Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies were emerging and drying out their wings. So when you go to Oklahoma. to visit the Wichita Mountains, you might want to check out the Ouachita National Forest as well.
    The photo by shoreacres of the pile of corn is remarkably similar to your first photo, which I like very much. In the second, I was more drawn to the composition, with the downward slope of the lichen-covered rock in the foreground echoed by the almost fluid motion of the boulders in the middle seemingly flowing down the side of the Enchanted Rock.
    And thanks for the link to “Why Lichens Matter” I printed it out and after reading, will probably stick it in one of my natural sciences books – couldn’t find one on lichens in my overpopulated library…


    April 25, 2021 at 10:06 AM

    • Sorry for the delayed reply. I just discovered your comment in WordPress’s spam folder, where I’m guessing it got sent because of the included link. Back in 2013 we drove through the Ouachita National Forest and I did a couple of posts about it:


      My hunch is that Ouachita and Wichita are variant French and English spellings of the same aboriginal name.

      This post’s first photo is an example of the minimalist abstractions I find myself drawn to create. The sweeping rock surface in the middle picture caught my attention, both intrinsically and because I don’t think I saw it on any of my previous visits to Enchanted Rock. We had to go over the top of the dome and part-way down the far side to see it.

      Someone needs to do a definitive book about lichens for the general public—or maybe there is such a book and I’m not aware of it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 29, 2021 at 10:36 PM

  8. Great photos of the enchanted rock covered completely with lichen! Over a long period of time – thousands of years – these organisms play an important role in the process of erosion. It is the working of the ‘tooth of time’ (Zahn der Zeit).

    Peter Klopp

    April 25, 2021 at 11:36 AM

  9. A lichen expert, Bo Arnolds, was a character of Tony Hillerman’s “A Thief of Time,” set in the American southwest.


    April 25, 2021 at 11:43 AM

  10. Those are quite huge lichen colonies.

    Steve Gingold

    April 25, 2021 at 2:16 PM

    • I don’t think I’ve ever seen any as broad as the one in the middle picture. From a distance I didn’t even realize it was lichen; I thought it was just gray rock.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 25, 2021 at 2:55 PM

  11. I love the notion of “universe’s mother stuff” and will try to remember it.


    April 25, 2021 at 6:45 PM

  12. “Matéria,” in Portuguese, must have the same origin. I love photographing lichens. I have a large collection of such photos.

    Alessandra Chaves

    April 25, 2021 at 10:09 PM

    • Yes, Portuguese matéria is pure Latin. You may be surprised that the original Latin noun evolved by via popular to Portuguese madeira, which was one of the original meanings of the Latin word, given that wood was such a common ‘mother stuff,’ i.e. building material.

      I well understand why you’d have a lot of lichen photographs.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 25, 2021 at 10:16 PM

      • I did not know this…

        Alessandra Chaves

        April 25, 2021 at 10:24 PM

        • It’s not obvious or even plausible till it’s pointed out. I’ve long thought that school curricula should include etymology, which reveals so much about the world. I’m not aware of a dedicated Portuguese etymological dictionary, but this online general Portuguese dictionary does include word origins:


          So does Wiktionary:


          Steve Schwartzman

          April 26, 2021 at 6:11 AM

          • Thank you!

            Alessandra Chaves

            April 26, 2021 at 7:57 AM

            • De nada. Speaking of which, nada has an interesting etymology of its own. I once traced it for Spanish, but it’s the same for Portuguese.


              Steve Schwartzman

              April 26, 2021 at 8:20 AM

              • When there was real milk and you brought it to boiling temperature, that layer of fat that formed on the surface, we call it “nata”.

                ” Surprisingly, nada traces back to Latin nata ‘born,’

                Alessandra Chaves

                April 26, 2021 at 10:08 AM

                • That’s a different word from the Latin nata that meant ‘born.’ The ‘cream’ kind of nata apparently came from Late Latin natta, a variant of the matta that has given English mat and Portuguese mata. The milk kind of nata was seen as a ‘mat’ floating on the surface.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  April 26, 2021 at 10:27 AM

                • I should add that Spanish has the expression la flor y nata, along the lines of French la crème de la crème, which is to say ‘the very best.’

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  April 26, 2021 at 10:34 AM

  13. There – caught up with you again, Steve. Lichens are among the most unappreciated, beautiful beings.

    Lavinia Ross

    April 26, 2021 at 11:20 AM

    • Happy catching up to you.
      I’m happy to show pictures that might lead to greater appreciation of lichens, or, as we say, more lichen likin’.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 26, 2021 at 11:27 AM

  14. Hey steve, that first shot is amazing … the colours and texture catch the eye! Incredible to think it is lichen


    April 30, 2021 at 3:38 PM

  15. The first one is fun … it makes a mountain out of a molehill, so to speak.


    May 4, 2021 at 12:52 PM

    • To my mind, the first picture could well have stood alone as a minimalist abstraction. Only by comparison to Enchanted Rock’s great dome could that boulder be considered a molehill.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 4, 2021 at 1:09 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: