Last summer while coming down Verstovia in early July, I happened to catch some nice light at the first view point. There were some lichens that were illuminated in a manner that I found to be quite striking, so I stopped and took some pictures. As is my wont, I tried to figure out what I saw after I had a chance to sit down a look at the pictures.
I am by no means anything approaching competent when it comes to the identification of lichens. I am also not likely to become any sort of expert, as I am not particularly fond of making collections and even when I do, my motivation to do the chemical testing necessary for identification is minimal. However, I knew enough to tell that this was a Cladonia (which I also knew is a particularly challenging group), but not much beyond that. A little thumbing through the appropriate section of Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest, led me to Cladonia transcendens as a likely candidate.
The description for C. transcendens seemed to match my photos quite well, even down to the yellowish tinge (as these were growing in a relatively open area), so I felt reasonably comfortable with this choice. I was also reassured by the fact that similar species mentioned in the notes had (or lacked) characteristics that would seem to rule out the possibility that what I photographed was one of them. Some time later, I happened to notice that the prefered growth substrates indicated were not quite such a good fit.
Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest indicates C. transcendens grows on bark and wood. The Lichen Inventory for Southeast Alaska indicates the species is present in the Sitka area, but also suggests it grows on “bark and lignum of conifers.” While I cannot rule out the possibility that the lichens I photographed were growing on a root or some woody debris, I’m pretty sure they were actually growing on the ground.
Given the difficulty of identifying Cladonia lichens to species, even though I felt pretty comfortable with the description, I decided that it’s best to leave this as Cladonia sp until such time as I decide it’s worth getting a collection and subjecting it to some chemical tests.