Plant – British Soldier Lichen (Cladonia cristatella) Part I

Would it seem odd if I labeled this post Throwback Thursday? Probably. I made my acquaintance with this small red lichen, Cladonia cristatella, better known as British Soldiers, years ago. In childhood, my friend Sherry, sister Susan, and I, would roam the fields near Sherry’s home in search of this small lichen to grow in terrariums. The lichen is a throwback to memories of earlier days.

I’ve been on quite a hunt for this plant, searching for it for weeks on end, I even know the date I began, August 31st. On that day we took Sherry, we’ve been friends for sixty years now, to the airport in Philadelphia, for her return trip home to the Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas. I wanted to find a way to commemorate her trip to visit us, and also wanted a reminder of our decades of friendship. I envisioned an idea to use British Soldier Lichen, but oh my, what a time I have had finding it.

British soldier lichen, with its brilliant red caps, is named for the army of British “redcoats” who invaded colonial America. FloraFinder

I will write more about the use I am going to make of the lichen in Part II, this post is more about my search and where I finally found the lichen. I remembered as children we found the ‘soldiers’ growing along an abandoned roadway. I visited the same area and found nothing. I also rummaged around a broken-down fence that bordered a park near our home, I spotted the lichen there in the past, but nothing was found. I was near giving up, telling myself perhaps the lichen was seasonal and not growing in the area in late summer.

I had almost given up my great idea for a gift when on a bike ride, along the Glassboro-Williamstown bike trail, whizzing by a decaying split-rail fence, I spied a spark of red from the corner of my eye. I braked, threw down the kickstand, and shouted to my husband, “I found them!”

There were hundreds, more likely thousands, of the British Soldiers growing on the length of the railings. Need I say I was thrilled? I gathered a few, some for my project/gift, a few others to attempt growing over the winter. Parts II and III the blog posts on the British Soldiers will follow over the course of the next week.

Plants & Projects – Terrarium Lids and Chairs

Terrarium with crystal lid

I’ve been experimenting with lichen covered branches and bark in an attempt to create a fairy chair that will actually be alive and growing inside a terrarium. I think I succeeded with the mossy concept when I crafted the chair shown above, but I am not happy at all with the appearance of the miniature replica. It has no fey appeal or magical delicacy. To my mind, it calls to mind a gnarly resting place for the local gnome or troll instead.

I do like the papery thin, empty insect pod I used as a fairy basket. It is filled with several pieces of milkweed fluff, which when tossed into the air become floating fairy wishes. I can just imagine a sweet woodland lady sitting down and spinning the soft strands into gossamer yarn.

Aesthetics aside, a good tip for covering a terrarium is to use a shallow glass bowl  or dish for a lid. This crystal lid fits nicely on top of my odd-shaped garden. I’ll keep trying to come up with a way to create the fragile, yet strong, fairy furniture I desire. Until then, “Calling all gnomes!”