Well, it is a lichen, anyway. This puppy is growing all over my pine trees, especially the older ones. After much time trying to identify it, I am sure it is a lichen. Looks like Speckled Greenshield Lichen. Added Lichens of North America to my wish list. I suspect there are 3 people on the planet that know much about lichens, and they don’t know the half of it. Here’s the little puppy that has me flustered.
I will never make a 4th expert, but I have a wealth of this particular lichen. Most of what I read was what was covered in my Biology classes at the University. Not much. If you look closely, this Speckled Greenshield Lichen is quite dramatic in appearance and has fruiting bodies.
What I learned is that any lichen can be used as a dye for protein fibers like wool, alpaca, and silk, and none need a mordant. The best way to collect them is to pick up fallen ones, ensuring that you do not over collect. This morning I took two paper lunch bags uphill with me on my search for rocks for raised bed 8 and easily collected enough to test dying yarn. Even a teaspoon or tablespoon of lichen makes a good amount of dye and I have considerably more after a few minutes of collecting. I even picked up some Treemoss for future perfume.
I am setting aside my Speckled Greenshield Lichen for dryig, it keeps indefinitely. As it dries, it will separate from the bits of bark and be easier to clean. Keep different species separate for clarity of dye color.
The basics of creating dye are pretty simple. The water method entails adding water and lichen to a pot, then simmer for an hour or more at 180°F. This usually produces a range of colors from the yellow, orange, rust, and brown families. The longer you cook the lichen, the more brown it will be. To get a deep brown, simmer about two hours, let cool and steep overnight, then simmer 2 more hours.
To get colors from the pink, red, purple, blue group, create the dye by fermenting in ammonia. This takes longer, but is just as easy. Using an ammonia:water solution in 1:1, 1:2, or 1:3 ratio, soak the lichen in a glass jar with a tight seal, adding a square of plastic freezer bag to seal and leaving air space at the top. Shake a couple times a day the first week, and once a day the second week. Take outside occasionally and open to let air in. This can be held like this for months or years.
Because solvent and water release different colors, once complete with one process, strain and rinse the lichen and use the other process. You can get quite a range of colors from one lichen.
There are endless color permutations and I imagine I will play with this for years to come. My first experiment in dying may prove my Speckled Greenshield Lichen to be a good dye crop. Some of the 100 ways to make dye will make colors I love.
Many lichens have wonderful scents, and sometimes using them as dyes also adds long lasting scent to the textile too. I will test part of my Speckled Greenshield Lichen for scent by using an alcohol extraction… a fancy way of saying I will soak it in 80+ proof vodka.
Depending on the scent and allergy testing, this abundance resource may serve me well for both dying and perfumes. When I am 100 percent sure of its species, I will check for medicinal usage. After I buy that authoritative book, maybe, and when I buy a magnifying glass for a better look. Even my zoom lens on my camera allowed me to see things I couldn’t see with reading glasses.
Lichens are not parasitic on trees and do no damage. They have algae/cyanobacteria and produce food through photosynthesis. They grow so slowly that there is a question about whether they grow old at all and some live thousands of years. Compared to humans, that qualifies as immortality. Some lichens are medicinal, some edible, some are toxic. If I put just the right search string in my search engine I will likely find out everything I need to know about my Speckled Greenshield Lichen. I doubt it is rare, its substrate, Pinyon Pine, is quite common.