December 09 – Old Man’s Beard

Looking for an obvious clue that Father Christmas is around? As always nature gives the game away. The species that lets us know where Santa Claus may have been travelling is a bioindicator – one that reveals the quality or status of the environment. And, from the presence of this species it seems that Father Christmas likes to travel where the air is clean.

Yes, unzipping door number 9 of our outdoor #ADVENTure calendar revealed a trail of ‘old man’s beard’! Old man’s beard is the common name for the Usnea genus of lichens. They’re an easily identifiable species, and if you can find some growing on the trees near you then it’s a sign that air pollution levels are low.


Usnea in Santa Teresa National Park, Uruguay (Photograph: Gina Maffey, 2016)

If you are in the UK and find some lichens on trees around you then you could consider contributing to an ongoing survey into air quality and the environment by OPAL (the Open Air Laboratories network), you can submit your sightings here.


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