Tallinn Botanic Gardens exhibitions sheds light on lichens in Estonia

The Tallinn Botanic Gardens (Tallinna Botaanikaaed) have dedicated the whole of May to an exhibition on lichens, ERR's science portal Novaator reports. One or two new lichen species are identified every year in Estonia.

The exhibition at the botanic gardens, in the Pirita district of the capital, displays photos from Andres Saag, a Univerisity of Tartu lichen researcher, or lichenologist, alongside actual specimens of the oft-overlooked composite organisms.

Liis Marmor-Ohtla, lichenologiest at the Tallinn Botanic Gardens, told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) that nearly 1,000 extant species of lichens have been identified in Estonia, with that list growing, albeit slowly, at the rate of one or two per year (there are an estimated 20,000 known species worldwide-ed.).

One new example was the discovery of Umbilicaria torrefacta (Estonian: Pits-kõrvsamblik, or "lace-ear lichen") on the islaned of Aegna, close to Tallinn. While this had been identified a century ago in Nõmme, then a separate town and now a suburb of Tallinn, it had not been found since and is a rare and endangered species in Estonia.

"Last year's most exciting find was a new, small lichen found in the forests at the base of the Maarjamäe ridge," Marmor-Ohtla added, noting that an official Estonian name for the species has yet to be thought up.

The species has only ever been found between this location and Kadriorg, a couple of kilometers to the southwest.

While perhaps mundane to some, lichens have historically seen a wide range of human use, including in the manufacture of dyes and even for food, while in fiction, the 1960 John Wyndham novel "Trouble with Lichen" deals with the implications of the discovery of the extraction of what is effectively an elixir of life, from a rare strain of lichen.

The Tallinn Botanic Gardens site is here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

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