Lichen (Opegrapha paraxanthodes)

Opegrapha paraxanthodes
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Lichen fact file

Lichen description

GenusOpegrapha (1)

This fungi grows in a crust-like fashion; the thallus is thin and pale greenish-yellow in colour with a cracked surface (3). The Latin name of the genus Opegrapha means 'hidden writing', this refers to the long fruits, called 'lirellae', which often have a dark outer margin (4), and may resemble Chinese writing or hieroglyphs (5). In this species, however, the fruiting bodies are 'boat shaped' (2).

Width of fruiting bodies: 0.2-0.3 mm (2)
Length of fruiting bodies: 0.5-1.0 mm (2)

Lichen biology

Lichens are remarkable organisms; they are stable combinations of an alga and/ or a cyanobacteria with a fungus, living together in a symbiotic association (4). The fungus causes the alga to release sugars, which allow the fungus to grow, reproduce and generally survive. The fungus provides protection for the alga, and enables it to live in environments in which it could not survive without the fungal partner (4). A general rule is that the fungal component of a fungi is unable to live independently, but the alga may live without the fungus as a distinct species (7). Many lichens are known to be very sensitive to environmental pollution, and they have been used as 'indicators' of pollution (6). The taxonomy of this species is not certain, and work is needed to investigate the taxonomic relationships within the Opegrapha genus (3).


Lichen range

This species is believed to be endemic to Britain and Ireland, and so it occurs nowhere else (3). It has a wide distribution in the UK, but where it does occur it tends to be rare (6).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Lichen habitat

Inhabits crevices in cliffs and rocky outcrops, and prefers base-rich rocks such as calcareous sandstone and limestone in shaded areas, such as river valleys (3).


Lichen status

Classified as Lower Risk (Near Threatened) in Great Britain and receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (3).


Lichen threats

This lichen has been lost from two sites in the UK, one in Gwent, the other in Cumbria, and from a site in County Galway in Ireland. The reasons for the decline of this species are not known, and the threats facing it have not yet been identified (3).


Lichen conservation

Opegrapha paraxanthodes is a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. The Species Action Plan aims to maintain the current populations and to enhance them where possible.

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.
The UK Biodiversity Action Plan for this species is available at UK BAP.


Information authenticated by Dr Brian Coppins of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh with the support of the British Ecological Society



A collection of taxonomically unrelated groups that share some common features but are grouped together for historical reasons and for convenience. They are of simple construction, and are mainly photoautotrophic, obtaining all their energy from light and carbon dioxide, and possess the photosynthetic pigment, chlorophyll A. They range in complexity from microscopic single cells to very complex plant-like forms, such as kelps. Algal groups include blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), red algae (rhodophyta), green algae (chlorophyta), brown algae and diatoms (chromista) as well as euglenophyta.
A group of bacteria that are able to photosynthesise and contain the pigment chlorophyll. They used to be known as ‘blue-green algae’. They are thought to have been the first organisms to produce oxygen; fossil cyanobacteria have been found in 3000 million year old rocks. As they are responsible for the oxygen in the atmosphere they have played an essential role in influencing the course of evolution on this planet.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Fungi are one of the taxonomic kingdoms, separate from plants and animals. They obtain nutrients by absorbing organic compounds from the surrounding environment.
Relationship in which two organisms form a close association, the term is now usually used only for associations that benefit both organisms (a mutualism).
Type of simple plant body that does not have stems, leaves and roots.


  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary ( November 2002)
  2. Coppins, B. (2004) Pers. comm.
  3. UK BAP Species Action Plan (Nov 2002):
  4. Dobson, F. (2000) Lichens. An illustrated guide to the British species. The Richmond Publishing Co. Ltd., Slough.
  5. ASU Lichen Herbarium. Lichen glossary. (Nov 2002):
  6. North East Scotland Biodiversity
  7. Church, J. M., Coppins, B. J., Gilbert, O. L., James, P. W. & Stewart, N. F. (1996) Red Data Book of Britain and Ireland: lichens. Volume 1: Britain. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.

Image credit

Opegrapha paraxanthodes  
Opegrapha paraxanthodes

© Frank Dobson

Frank Dobson
57 Acacia Grove
New Malden
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 208 949 2416
Fax: +44 (0) 208 949 2416


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