Lichen Revival

Preamble My partner Curtis and I held our first Lichen Revival Workshop in 2008, partly to help build community among lichen aficionados across western Canada and points south, and partly to disseminate some new “enlichened” insights I’d been working on and later published in a series of 12 essays called Readings on the Lichen Thallus.

Four Lichen Revival Workshops have been held to date, the most recent in 2018, as reported in Diane Haughland’s tribute composed in the autumn of that year and posted below.

After lapse of (too) many years, Curtis and I look forward to hosting a Fifth Lichen Revival Workshop at a time not yet determined. I hope you won’t hesitate to reach out to me if you’d like to help organize the next in this series of collegial, up-beat, wonder-filled events.

Take it away, Diane!


class looking at Bryoria in Trophy Mountain by John Villella
©John Villella
Lichen Revival in Western Canada

By Diane Haughland, Lichen Coordinator, Faculty of Science – Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, University of Alberta, Edmonton.

Published in British Lichen Society Bulletin 123: Winter 2018: 62–71.


ritain has an enviable record of public engagement in lichenology, but western Canada is different. Here a small population scattered across a large land base has made it challenging for lichen enthusiasts to meet and network. That doesn’t mean we aren’t trying. In Alberta, Peter Whitehead recently formed the Western Canada Bryophyte and Lichen Interest Group. Darcie Thauvette, Mireille Martel and I provide free lichenology workshops through the Alberta Native Plant Council. University courses and workshops covering lichens can be found at Royal Roads University (Juliet Pendray) and the University of Alberta (the author, Toby Spribille, and periodically Janet Marsh). The Tombstone Territorial Park in the Yukon hosts an annual Fungi and Lichens weekend. The events with the widest reach however are based in BC, where a ‘movement’ called the Lichen Revival began a decade ago.

The hub of this movement is a sanctuary named Edgewood Blue and the lichenologists who call it home, Trevor Goward and Curtis Bjork – co-curators of lichens at the University of British Columbia. Edgewood is located in the Clearwater Valley, about 2 hours north of Kamloops and snug against Wells Gray Provincial Park, renowned for its forests, waterfalls and subalpine meadows. Wells Gray is also a global hotspot of lichen diversity, with 424 macro- and meso-lichens documented to date – testament to the tremendous diversity of habitats, including ancient inland rainforests, volcanic canyons, and waterfall spray zones.

What I’ve enjoyed about this movement is its deliberate inclusiveness. Academic conferences are revitalizing and intellectually exciting. A good revival takes that academic core and combines it with enthusiastic people from all walks of life who love lichens enough to study lichens in their spare time and dedicate personal resources to being with other lichen-lovers.

In October 2008, Trevor and Curtis welcomed a small group to the first lichen revival, run mostly out of Edgewood’s sitting room. Warmed by the wood stove, and with a view to the wetland out front, we discussed lichen symbiosis and the conundrum of naming organisms (lichens) that are also ecosystems (fungi and algae). Curtis led us on walks to learn crustose lichens. The dew that makes the Clearwater Valley so rich in fruticose lichens greeted us each morning.

By the next revival in 2014, Trevor and Curtis had transformed Edgewood into an educational retreat, complete with outdoor classrooms and welcoming gardens. Inspired by the work of Philippe Clerc, Trevor, Darcie Thauvette and I co-led a workshop on Usnea in which we introduced the latest taxonomic concepts to a diverse group of participants from as far afield as California, Washington and Alaska, not to mention British Columbia and Alberta.

We balanced our time between exploring species concepts in the lab aided by thin layer chromatography, learning chemical tests, and looking at Usnea diversity ‘blooms’ in the field. Participants shared meals in the community kitchen, and made smores over the campfire on our last night. If you’re not familiar with smores, picture a graham cracker cortex and roasted-marshmallow and melted-chocolate medulla.

In 2017 we embraced our Alberta cohort by hosting the third lichen revival in Jasper National Park, at the Palisades Stewardship and Education Centre. Against a stunning Canadian Rocky Mountain backdrop, Trevor and I focused on new developments in macro-lichen taxonomy, emphasizing tricky genera like Bryoria, Hypogymnia, and Peltigera. We discussed species newly discovered in British Columbia and Alberta (the latter in part through the work of the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute) and we re-acquainted ourselves with some stand-out stand-bys.

We were fortunate to have guest lectures from Toby Spribille and Gulnara Tagirdzhanova (newly of the University of Alberta), and Juan Carlos Villarreal (Laval University). Highlights included visiting a Evernia divaricata hotspot, and observing cephalo- and cyanolichens ‘step-down’ onto erratic boulders in the dry pine forests of Wabasso Trail. We conversed on Peltigera and Cladonia ecology and diversity along the shores of Maligne Lake, and learned to identify Hypogymnia dichroma, a recent segregate in the Hypogymnia austerodes group. Janet Marsh provided historical context by sharing her experiences with the biophysical surveys of Jasper.

This September, the fourth and most recent revival returned us to the Clearwater Valley, this time to the Thompson Rivers University Field Station. Here Toby, Darwyn Coxson (University of Northern British Columbia), and Yngvar Gauslaa (Norwegian University of Life Sciences) led an enthusiastic, research-oriented group in wide-ranging discussions of lichen evolution, ecology and physiology. The depth of experience shared was humbling, as we learned about the lichen cortex from Toby, moisture and drip zones as drivers of lichen distributions from Yngvar, and nitrogen fixation by soil crusts from Darwyn.

We also hiked in the alpine meadows of the Trophy Mountains, where we were thrilled to find Tholurna dissimilis and the enigmatic Peltigera (Hydrothyria) gowardii. On another outing, we saw Chinook attempt to jump Bailey’s Chute, a waterfall that effectively forms the final barricade to even the most motivated migrating salmon, and pondered some undescribed species of Peltigera.

The Revivals do not focus on blitzing biodiversity or making lists, at least thus far. Instead, we help each other navigate new taxonomy, appreciate the complex communities that are lichens, and read the lichen thallus to better understand what lichens are saying about the state of our environment. It is about listening and learning, visiting and sharing and – as one participant recently noted – it’s about expanding our ‘lichen nerd bubble’. After four revivals, our lichen community is growing, and it feels like the fun has just begun.

Lichen Revivalists in alphabetic order, Origin (Revivals attended)

  • Heather Ahn, Washington (IV)
  • Lyn Baldwin, British Columbia (IV)
  • Curtis Bjork, British Columbia (I, IV)
  • Lalita Calabria, Washington (IV)
  • Darwyn Coxson, British Columbia 9 (I, IV)
  • Stu Crawford, British Columbia (II)
  • Mari Decker, Alberta (III)
  • Karen Dillman, Alaska (II)
  • Melissa Duffy, Washington (I, II)
  • Ruth Errington, Alberta (III)
  • Keaton Freel, British Columbia (III)
  • Yngvar Gauslaa, Norway (IV)
  • Katherine Glew, Washington (II)
  • Trevor Goward, British Columbia (I, II III, IV)
  • Diane Haughland, Alberta (I, II III, IV)
  • Eri Hiraga, Alberta (III)
  • Laura Hjartarson, Alberta (III, IV)
  • Peter Josty, Alberta (III)
  • Margaret Krichbaum Alberta (III)
  • Janet Marsh, Alberta (II, III)
  • Mireille Martel, Alberta (III, IV)
  • Jesse Miller, California (IV)
  • Miko Nadel, California (II)
  • Scott Nielsen, Alberta (III)
  • Juliet Pendray, British Columbia (IV)
  • Meaghan Petix, Washington (IV)
  • Anne Robinson, Alberta (III)
  • Meagan Robson, Alberta (III)
  • Chris Shapka, Alberta (II)
  • Andrew Simon, British Columbia (I, II, IV)
  • Toby Spribille, Alberta (III, IV)
  • Ivy Strother, British Columbia (III)
  • Gulnara Tagirdzhanova, Alberta (III)
  • Darcie Thauvette, Alberta (II, III)
  • Daryl Thompson, British Columbia (I, III, IV)
  • Juan Carlos Villarreal, Quebec (III)
  • John Villella, Oregon (I, IV)

Western Canadian Lichen Labs and Learning Hubs

Next up: Deertrails