Lungwort
Lobaria pulmonaria

The last week or so has been quite cool and wet; ideal conditions to get the local lichens all pumped up. Today, I went for a walk on the Silver Spoon cross-country ski trails in Deep River. In two separate locations, I encountered patches of Lobaria pulmonaria, commonly known as lungwort.

2003 October 03

Lungwort, Lobaria pulmonaria

Lobaria pulmonaria growing on a maple tree beside one of the Silver Spoon Ski Trails in Deep River, Ontario.

Lungwort is quite impressive in cool damp conditions -- a very intense green with lobes up to 3 cm wide and 7 cm long. However, in warm dry conditions, it shrivels up, looses its colour, and fades into the background. You probably wouldn't notice it if you weren't looking for it. The green colour is due to green algae, a symbiotic component of this lichen. Additionally, lungwort contains dark blue-green cyanobacteria, which allows it to fix nitrogen from the air.

According to Forest Plants of Central Ontario by Chambers et al. (published by Lone Pine Press), it is uncommon. I know of three locations where it grows in the local area, but I am sure there are many more. The Checklist of the Lichens of Algonquin Provincial Park indicates its presence there. It is a reassuring "plant" to have around as it is quite intolerant of air pollution. (Unfortunately, the same thing can be said of black flies and water pollution!)

Lungwort, Lobaria pulmonaria

Close up of Lobaria pulmonaria.

According to the Lichens of North America by Brodo et al. (published by the Yale University Press):

All species of Lobaria ... are good indicators of rich, unpolluted, and often very old forests. Despite its diminishing abundance, L. pulmonaria has long been prized as an important source of boiling water dyes. Herbalists have recommended L. pulmonaria as a remedy for tuberculosis because of its resemblance to lung tissue, and in India, it has been used to treat lung diseases, asthma, hemorrhages, and even eczema on the head. Lungwort has been used for brewing in India and in Europe. It is apparently a favorite food of moose in the northeast.

Needless to say, the logic of using lungwort to treat lung disease because it looks like lung tissue, while common to herbalism, is somewhat suspect. Don't try this at home! (The moose can make their own decisions.)

If you are interested in lichens, I recommend Lichens of North America mentioned above. It is a gorgeous book, but too big to be thought of as a field guide.

Bibliography

Irwin M. Brodo, Sylvia Duran Sharnoff, and Stephen Sharnoff, Lichens of North America, Yale University Press.

Brenda Chambers, Karen Legasy, and Cathy V. Bentley (1996), Forest Plants of Central Ontario, Lone Pine Publishing and Queeen's Printer for Ontario.

H.L. Dickson and W.J. Crins (1993), Checlist of the Lichens of Algonquin Provincial Park, Algonquin Park Technical Bulletin No. 7, The Friends of Algonquin Park.