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COLUMN: Harold Walters is takin’ a likin’ to lichens

Save the whales!

Conserve the rain forests!

Protect the vole ears lichens!

Vole ears lichens!

That’s right. The vole ears lichens.

As you know, lichens are scabby, fungi-y organisms that grow on rocks and trees and sometimes the shingles on the north side of your roof.

Last fall, risking broken skeleton parts since at my venerable age calcium crumbles like talc, I crept up a ladder onto our roof and, wielding a putty knife like a bold knight’s blade, snicker-snacked left and right lifting lichens from the shingles.

I thought I was saving the roof, slaying acid-secreting sticky chummies that were corroding the asphalt shingles. There was not a notion in my noggin that I was murdering wildlife.

On reflection, it seems all my life I’ve thoughtlessly destroyed lichens.

I’ve picked them from rocks on the patch-a-berry barrens, ground them to dust in my palms and flung them to the wind while resting from berry-harvesting stoop labour.

Accompanied by other bay-boys of my wantonly destructive ilk I plied my pocketknife and, among flakes of bark, scrope them from spruce trees, rolled them like spliffs in scraps of brown-paper bags and set then on fire.

Smokin’ spruce!

“Harry, my erstwhile herbicidal honey,” said Dearest Duck kindly presenting me with a mug of switchel tea steeped to the colour of … well, the colour of spruce bark p’raps, “aren’t you wandering off track?”

“Prob’ly am, my Duck. It’s been known to happen.”

So, the vole ears lichen. Named such, I s’pose, because its shape resembles the velvety ears of certain meadow rodents.

The vole ears lichen — an organism formed by a fungus and bacteria — are in danger of extinction.


On the Avalon Peninsula apparently, only a dozen or so trees host colonies of vole ears lichens. My imperfect understanding is that wildlife biologists have roped-off those trees and are as protective of the lichens’ lodgings as CSI personnel are of crime scenes.

And rightly so.

I imagine a major worry for folks concerned with the dwindling numbers of any endanger species is how to ensure they — the endangered species, not the worriers — propagate themselves.

Dare I say that? Propagate themselves?

“Harry, stop your badness,” says my companion in propa…er…my boon companion.

According to Krista Baker, a species-at-risk biologist, who Andrew Robinson has quoted in the Compass, [online] July 28, 2014, “There are two forms of vegetative reproduction for vole ears lichen.”

Vegetative reproduction! That doesn’t sound very conjugal. Or does it?


If the lichens don’t manage to reproduce on the tree they already occupy, they might explore other options — wind, rain or animals.

“Harry, say nothing.”

“My Duck, I’m only paraphrasing what the biologist said.”

Again from Ms. Baker in the Compass: “They can’t disperse very far on their own.”

Unlike lupines. The seed pods of those bi-annual beauties explode on hot, dry summer days and disperse their seeds at least twenty feet, or more in centimetres.

Fancy the envious vole ears lichen.

One last sad scrap of information from Ms. Baker before she finds out I’m quoting her and chucks rocks at me: “There is one extremely rare case of sexual reproduction for vole ears lichen documented in North America.”

That’s not a lot of doing the necessary, eh b’ys?

Then, as if uncertain reproduction isn’t problem enough in light of unsure propagation, there’s some fear hungry insects will infest the few trees where vole ears lichen live and, as if they were mushroom salads, chaw them into extinction.

An aside — kinda.

Once when Dearest Duck had dragged me off to a foreign land where coconut palms grew, I noticed humongous tin belly-bands wrapped around the tree trunks.

“Why is that?” I asked a grounds-keeper, pointing like a yokel at the metal belts strapped on the palms.

“Sir,” he politely said to this ignorant tourist, “that’s to keep rats from climbing to the top and nesting among the coconuts.”

I’m wondering if some similar method might be used to hinder starving bugs from climbing trees and feasting on vole ears lichens, if, in fact, that’s how insects cause damage.

Finally, I can say this now that Dearest Duck is elsewhere.

Accompanying the news story to which I’ve referred is a picture of a tree trunk harbouring a swatch of vole ears lichens and some shreds of beardy ol’ mal-dow.

It has crossed my mind that civilizations of lichens have been inadvertently extinguished by woodsmen — okay, woodsy persons — who, having answered Nature’s call, snatched and applied a handful of mal-dow, plus attendant lichens [vole ears or otherwise], in lieu of Papa Bruin’s Charmin toilet tissue.

Thank you for reading, and not repeating those last lines to Dearest Duck.

— Harold Walters lives Happily Ever After in Dunville, in the only Canadian province with its own time zone. How cool is that? Reach him at

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