Sunburst lichen

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Sunburst lichen

Xanthoria sp.

Lichens are not plants, but rather a mutually-beneficial partnership between two types of organisms: fungi and algae. The fungi provide a protected home for the algae, which, for their part, provide nutrients as the result of photosynthesis. Lichens are very tough and can survive in harsh conditions where many plants cannot.

Image: Orange Sunburst lichen

3D View: Sunburst lichen
Orange Sunburst lichen growing at the side of a mountain.

Why this species is important

Nutrients are important tools in the growth of Sunburst lichen (scientifically referred to as Xanthoria sp.).  This lichen can be found growing near nests and perches of birds and small mammals, where nutrient input from animals is abundant.


How does it spread?

Sunburst lichen can take over habitat that others simply cannot. Here, you can see how a Sunburst lichen can spread across a rock face.

The orange areas represent Sunburst lichen.

An increase in the amount of Sunburst lichen growth over a 100 year period.
100 years
0 years

A burst of colour


In the treeless Arctic, large splashes of orange Sunburst lichen can be seen from long distances away.


‘Leafy’ lichen


Lichens come in three main forms: fruticose (resembling tiny shrubs), crustose (a crust attached so tightly to its substrate that it cannot be flaked off), and foliose (called this as they are flat, like the leaves that make up most foliage).  As foliose lichens, Sunburst lichens are attached to their rock substrates only at certain points.


In lichen time


Sunburst lichens were among the first groups of lichens used for lichenometry, a technique used to determine the age of an exposed rock surface.  By measuring the growth rate of lichens, and then measuring the size of lichen colonies on surfaces in a similar environment, researchers can make good estimates of the date when a glacier had receded to a certain point, or when a certain stone monument was built.