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We've all seen lichen in nature. It commonly lives on trees but also in underbrush and on downed branches. It has an unpleasant appearance but is actually an indicator of a healthy environment. Between six and seven percent of Earth's land is covered in lichen and it tends to thrive in areas where the air is clean. This is because the organism is technically not a plant and relies on the atmosphere for nutrition. Toxins in the air can destroy lichen and it is rarely found in urban areas.
A lichen (pronounced Lie-ken or sometimes Leech-N) is a composite organism comprised of both algae and fungi. This combination has different properties to those of its components. Many properties of lichen are plant-like, but lichens are not plants. Lichens are grouped by their shape and function- they can be composed of have tiny, leafless branches called fruiticose, flat leaf-like structures called foliose, flakes that lie on the surface like peeling paint called crustose, and a powder-like appearance called leprose.
This combination creates synergy in the resulting organism. Various species living together in a symbiotic relationship collectively help create a more streamlined being. Most importantly the organism is able to create higher levels of what we energy (some of which we consider vitamin D) because of light/energy transfer from the algae to the fungal component. The algae benefit their fungal partner by producing carbon compounds through photosynthesis. The fungi uses the energy of the algae and the algae is attached to a safer environment as the host is strengthened. Think of it as the algae paying a constant tribute in exchange for protection. Although lichen are a combination of two different species it is still categorized according to which fungi is a component of it (not by which algae is present). They are given the same scientific name (binomial name) as the fungus in them, which may cause some confusion.
One amazing quality of lichen are their ability to create vitamin D using light from the sun that is more abundantly transferred to the fungi via the light sensitive algae present in the organism. This heavy vitamin D content is present in our new Vegan D which is a strong source of both D2 and D3. A lot of studies show vitamin D3 is much more effective in the body than D2 and this product has four days of the recommended daily allowance of D3 in every veggie capsule.
These composite organism provide researchers with a perfect example of how a composite organism works. The primative nature of both organisms have lead to it being some of the longest living species on Earth with some arctic lichen thought to be over 8,000 years old.