November storms provide an opportunity to look at lichens that are usually a little higher up and out of reach. This week, while walking at Miracle Beach Provincial Park during a lull between squalls we found some beautiful Lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria) on a branch of Big-leaf Maple that had blown down in the high winds.
Lungwort gets its common name from the fact that early European physicians used it to treat pneumonia and other lung diseases. They thought that because it looked similar to the interior of a lung that it could be used for this purpose. In India it has been used to treat lung diseases, asthma, and hemorrhages and herbalists have used it as a remedy for tuberculosis. Unfortunately, there is no scientific basis for using Lungwort to cure these diseases.
This is a distinctive leaf lichen and one that is fairly easy to identify. It is a large, bluish to bright green lichen that is often loosely attached to both coniferous and deciduous trees. Here on the west coast, I commonly find it growing on Big-leaf Maple in the moist coastal forests of the Pacific Northwest. The surface of the lichen has tiny white balls called soredia and brownish saucerlike apothecia on its lobe margins. The underside of this lichen is whitish/brown and finely hairy.
In some ways, Lungwort can be associated with our lungs. Its presence indicates a lack of pollution and it is often found in rich, old growth forests. When you find Lungwort, take a deep breath – odds are you’ll be breathing in good, clean air.