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Collecting Lichens

- An Overview: Collecting Lichens -
by Frank Bungartz

How To Collect | Conservation
Specimen Information | Tools

How To Collect


Crustose and foliose lichens should generally be collected with part of their substrate. The substrate provides support for the specimen. Removing the specimen from the substrate usually causes damage to the specimen.

Large specimens may be difficult top collect as a whole. Care must be taken that the specimen which is collected is representative for the whole lichen thallus. The growth form of the thallus can be quite different in the center and the margin. If you cannot collect the entire specimen it is therefore necessary to collect both parts from the thallus center and the margin.

Fruticose species can usually easily be removed from their substrate and collected separately. Nevertheless it is important that you record what substrate the specimen used to grow on. Some fruticose lichens are very brittle when they are dry (e.g. Cladonia species). These specimens should be wetted before collecting them.

Soil specimens are also very fragile. Unless they are vagrant these specimens be collected with the soil attached. To prevent fragile specimens from breaking apart it may sometimes help to wet the soil. Loamy soil usually keeps together if wetted. Sandy soil is usually brittle even when wetted.

Fragile specimens need to be wrapped in "lichen wrap" (= toilet or tissue paper) before they are transported back to the herbarium. This is particular important for soil specimens which are exceptionally fragile.



In protected areas such as National or State Parks you will generally need a special permit to collect. Such permits are usually only issued if there is some considerable scientific interest to justify the collection.

Most lichen species grow very slowly and you should consider this before you remove a specimen. Some of the lichens you may want to collect will be older than a large tree or a saguaro! If you consider the time it may take for a population to recover you will understand that you should only collect specimens which you can find abundantly or if your scientific research really justifies the damage.

Specimen Information


Each collection bag must be labeled accurately in the field with date, locality and detailed information about the microhabitat of the lichen (e.g. substrate, exposure, inclination). It would otherwise be impossible to remember all this important information later on.

Several specimen from the same microhabitat can be placed in one collection bag but should later be sorted out according to species.



  • hammer
  • cold chisel (3/4 inch, preferably bright color)
  • sturdy knife (for digging in the dirt and scraping off bark), maybe you also want to carry a second, sharp and less sturdy knife and a wood chisel
  • 10x hand lens
  • one large collecting bag (to carry all your collections around)
  • small brown paper bags for collection of specimens (don't use plastic, specimens will mold)
  • small boxes for soil specimens
  • "lichen wrap" (toilet paper for wrapping fragile specimens)
  • collection book (for field notes on localities etc.)

Good to have but not essential for a field trip:
  • topographic map of the area
  • GPS
  • altimeter
  • compass
  • spray bottle with water (for soil specimens)
  • artist's spatula (to remove tightly attached foliose specimens from their substrate)
  • re-fillable technical pen "radiograph" (KO-I-NOOR) filled with spot test chemicals P, K, C, I
  • portable UV light (from stamp supplies; if it gets dark some lichens glow!)

ASU Lichen Herbarium
School of Life Sciences
PO Box 87 4501
Tempe, AZ 85287-4501
phone 480 965-4679
fax 480-965-6899

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