Nova Scotia designates blue felt as its provincial lichen

Blue felt lichen grows on a tree in Keji's Seaside Park. (Submitted by Troy McMullin - image credit)
Blue felt lichen grows on a tree in Keji's Seaside Park. (Submitted by Troy McMullin - image credit)

Nova Scotia has declared blue felt as its official lichen.

The complex life form, also known by its scientific name, Pectenia plumbea, is quite common and grows on hardwood trees in the dense forest of the province.

It can be distinguished by its leafy grey top with red dots and frosty edges, and its indigo blue underside.

The species was declared the province's official lichen earlier this month, after Bill 230 passed at the Nova Scotia Legislature.

Jonathan Riley, the trail and open spaces co-ordinator for the Municipality of Digby, helped present the legislation.

"Blue felt is a good choice because of [its] deep blue colours — that lead grey and the blue matte — they both evoke the ocean, say maybe in different moods, but they really do remind you of the ocean," Riley told CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia on Monday.

He said the lichen can grow anywhere but "they're happiest here near the ocean" because they thrive in the humidity.

"They're perfectly suited for Nova Scotia, and then just the fact that it's beautiful, I think it makes a great symbol for the province."

Riley said the idea for an official lichen came about after Troy McMullin, a lichenologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, organized a public vote in 2019. A group of "enthusiastic lichen fans" in Nova Scotia voted on 12 or 13 lichens, and blue felt came out on top, he said.

1st designation of its kind

The designation is the first of its kind in Canada, Riley said.

"The fact that we were able to get ours legislated as an official symbol before anybody else is not really a fluke," he said.

"Nova Scotia has a richness and an abundance and diversity of these cyanolichens … and in my opinion, they're more beautiful and a little more interesting and that has attracted a lot of people in Nova Scotia to be interested in lichens."

Riley said the species is also an important driver of environmental services.

"We often think that trees are sequestering a lot of carbon, but the fact is, if you take all of the little organisms like moss, hornworts, lichens, scale warts [and] put them all together collectively, they're capturing more carbon than the trees," he said.

Meanwhile, blue felt lichen is listed as a vulnerable species in the province.

Nova Scotia's species at-risk database says the lichen can be found in 88 locations, which makes up a "considerable portion of the entire range known in North America," but it's threatened by climate change and airborne pollutants.

That's why it's important to recognize their importance with this designation, Riley said.

"All these symbols are an opportunity to celebrate what's special about Nova Scotia," he said.

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