and Stephen Sharnoff
OF BAJA CALIFORNIA
Fringe of the Sonoran Desert"
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The Sonoran Desert is one of the world's most
remarkable environments. This unique landscape, the original
home of many indigenous peoples, supports many animals found
nowhere else, and is a center of diversity for cacti. Rainfall
is very scant, and sudden when it comes, but along the western
coastal strip of Baja California a gentle fog frequently blows
in from the Pacific, supporting an amazingly luxuriant growth
Lichens are not plants, but rather a symbiotic
association between a fungus and a photosynthetic organism. The
photosynthetic partner is usually a colony of algae, or sometimes
cyanobacteria. It can even be both together, one living system
comprising three kingdoms! Lichens form unique structures that
live for many years, often centuries. They need only sunlight,
air, water, and something to grow on. In the fog zone of western
Baja they become abundant, covering plants, rocks, and soil with
strange forms and rich colors. As with the region's plants, many
species of lichens found here do not exist anywhere else in the
are more than decorative: they help to create, enrich, and protect
soil; birds camouflage their nests with them; and many produce
effective antibiotic compounds that have been used by native
peoples around the world. In the photo is lace lichen, Ramalina
menziesii, which grows in coastal areas as far north as British
Columbia. Here it hangs down in thick strands, almost completely
covering a dead boojum tree.
Photographs by Sylvia and Stephen Sharnoff, co-authors
of Lichens of North America, published by Yale University Press.
Website at http://www.lichen.com.
You may phone Stephen at 510-548-9189 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
from the Art Opening
These strange trees
are "boojums," Fouquieria columnaris,
named after a made-up word in Lewis Carroll's The
Hunting of the Snark, and are only found in Baja
California. The man in the photo is a European lichenologist
examining the lichens growing on the boojum's surface.
rock outcropping is covered with many species of lichens.
They do not need rain to survive since they soak up all
they require from the fog.
This ia a closer
view of one of the common kinds of lichens found on rock.
It is a true fog-desert lichen in the genus Niebla, growing
from Baja Sur to Marin County California, but only along
exists within its own space. For these patches of lichen
only a few centimeters across, their space consists of
a rock surface on which they will grow for hundreds of
years. They lay dormant when dry, coming to life when they
can get enough moisture from the fog.
In the 19th century,
sailing ships came to the west coast of Baja from Europe
to collect lichens in the genus Roccella by the
ton. The lichen shown in the photograph growing on a
cactus was used to produce orchil, a beautiful purple