Book of May: Lichens of the North Woods

Everywhere we look as we hike (or even drive), be it ground, rock or tree, lichens make themselves known.


Some are easy to ID even if we are driving 60mph (on the highway, that is), like common greenshield. Others, however, require closer examination and consideration. And that’s why this month’s book is . . .


Lichens of the North Woods by Joe Walewski. From the get go, it’s another one of those books where it feels like the author is by my side. “Welcome to the Lilliputian world of lichens!” he begins.

Lilliputian indeed! And complex. But Walewski helps the rest of us develop an understanding of such complexity. Through illustrations and photographs, he presents us with Lichen Biology 101. And then he takes us into the field, showing us how to collect and preserve our specimens.

He explains how to use the field guide and then gets into the nitty gritty. I appreciate that the book is divided into the three substrates–ground, rock and tree–though sometimes I need to remember that though the lichen I’ve found appears to be on a rock, it might be listed under ground because the soil has built up over time.

Within each of the three sections, he further divides it by type: crustose (think those lichens that appear to be flat like a crust of bread), foliose (leafy like foliage) and fruticose (branching like grape branches). Common greenshield is leafy–therefore a foliose lichen.

For each lichen, Walewski includes a photograph, description, chemistry, similar species and nature notes.

Finally, there is a glossary, followed by titles of interest, and a list of lichen groups and Web sites.

It’s a small book, measuring 8 x 4.5 and only about a half inch thick, so it’s easy to toss in the backpack.

b-Quill 2

Walewski’s study focuses on Minnesota, but here in the Northeast, we have many of the same varieties.

I’ve encouraged you to develop your bark eyes in the past. This summer, look out! We’re going to work on our lichen eyes. And any puns you wish to share are most welcome 🙂

I found my copy of Lichens of the North Woods at Bridgton Books. Look for it at your independent book store.

Lichens of the North Woods, Joe Walewski, Kollath+Stensaas Publishing, 2007