Stories in Washington

Exploring Nature: Lichen Palettes

Illustrations by Erica Sloniker, TNC Marketing and Visual Communications Specialist

Illustration of many different-colored lichen.
Lichen Palettes The beauty of lichen is all around us. © Illustration by Erica Sloniker/TNC

Welcome to Exploring Nature, an illustrated blog series that (re)discovers the natural world through art, science, and observation.

Illustration of a cliffside in a field notebook.
Illustration of words written in a field notebook.
Illustration of watercolor circles of different lichen colors.
Illustrations of lichen in nature.
Illustration of crusty lichen on rocks.
Illustration of orange and yellow lichen-covered cliffs.
Illustration of words written in a field notebook.


Lichen Palettes at Moses Coulee Preserve

Saturday 10-14-23

A beautiful but breezy day at Moses Coulee today. The star of my hike has been the stunning lichen colors on the basalt cliffs. As I walk, I begin to notice the smaller details. Where will I find the next show of lichen? I quickly realized lichen is just about everywhere!

Today’s lichen colors: Mustard yellow (cliffs, rocks), lime yellow (branches, fence post), sunshine (branches), burnt orange (cliffs, rocks), tangerine (rocks), gold leaf (cliffs, rocks), charcoal (rocks), grey (rocks) and bone (rocks, grasses).

On rock surfaces, I noticed leafy (foliose) lichens with bumps, ridges and cup-like shapes in their texture. Nestled into a sagebrush branch, I noticed hairy (fruticose) lichen. The texture was shrubby. Many of the lichens (crustose) were scaly, flaky and crust-like in texture. They were widespread on cliffs with patterns of intermixing color.

As the sun gets lower, the lichen colors are starting to pop with the late afternoon light. I pause for a moment and then leave in wonder.

How long have these lichens grown to fill in these beautiful spaces?