Golden hair lichen (Teloschistes flavicans)

Golden hair lichen

Top facts

  • The golden hair lichen belongs to the genus Teloschistes, the name of which means 'split ends'.
  • Species of this genus are believed to be very ancient and may have remained unchanged for millions of years.
  • Like all lichens, the golden hair lichen consists of an alga and a fungus living together in a symbiotic relationship.
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Golden hair lichen fact file

Golden hair lichen description

GenusTeloschistes (1)

The fungi (Teloschistes flavicans) is a striking 'fruticose' or 'shrubby' tufted lichen, which is a bright orange colour (2) with highly branched, flattened lobes (7). The name of the genus Teloschistes means 'split ends' (7).

Length of lobes: up to 4 cm (7)

Golden hair lichen biology

Lichens are remarkable organisms; they consist of an alga and a fungus living together in a symbiotic association(2). A general rule is that the fungal component of a lichen is unable to live independently, but the alga may live without the fungal partner as a distinct species (2). Many lichens are known to be very sensitive to environmental pollution, and they have been used as 'indicators' of pollution (3). This genus is thought by some experts to be very ancient, and some species may have remained unchanged for millions of years (6). The golden hair lichen reproduces asexually, either by the body of the lichen (the thallus) breaking into pieces, or by means of 'soredia', microscopic structures that look like powder to the naked eye, and contain fungal threads and a few algal cells (3).


Golden hair lichen range

At present this lichen is restricted to the Welsh coast and south-west England, but the range once extended into central England and along the coast to Kent. A population also occurred in the Firth of Clyde (2). In Europe, the distribution is Mediterranean-Atlantic, the northern extreme of which is in Anglesey. Elsewhere this lichen becomes widespread in tropical and the warmer temperate areas of the world (2) (8).

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

Golden hair lichen habitat

The main habitat of this species in the UK is coastal cliff-tops; it either grows on rock, amongst vegetation, or on stony ground (2). It occasionally occurs inland where it inhabits trunks of trees that are rich in nutrients, typically in parkland, hedgerows and orchards (2).


Golden hair lichen status

The golden-hair lichen is classified as Vulnerable in Great Britain (2), and protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (4).


Golden hair lichen threats

This species is known to be extremely sensitive to sulphur dioxide air pollution (5). Other possible threats include extended dry periods and trampling (5), eutrophication, in particular excess air-bourne ammonia resulting from applications of slurry (9), as well as loss of suitable habitat caused by excessive growth of ivy on hedgerow trees (9).


Golden hair lichen conservation

Although the golden hair lichen is not a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species, English Nature's Species Recovery Programme has carried out surveys of the species (2). Furthermore, the Countryside Council for Wales has carried out survey and monitoring work on this lichen (2), including an assessment of the health of populations after the Sea Empress oil spill (5). This lichen also receives special protection under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Find out more

For more on this species in Wales see: Wolseley, P. & May, P.J. (1997). Resurvey and monitoring of T. flavicans in Pembrokeshire. Countryside Council for Wales Sea Empress Contract Report 237. Available on-line at:

For more on British lichens see: Dobson, F. (2000) Lichens. An illustrated guide to the British species. The Richmond Publishing Co. Ltd., Slough.



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.
Of asexual reproduction: reproduction that does not involve the formation of sex cells ('gametes'). In many species, asexual reproduction can occur by fission (or in plants 'vegetative reproduction'); part of the organism breaks away and develops into a separate individual. Some animals, including vertebrates can develop from unfertilised eggs, this process, known as parthenogenesis gives rise to offspring that are genetically identical to the parent
Fungi are one of the taxonomic kingdoms, separate from plants and animals. They obtain nutrients by absorbing organic compounds from the surrounding environment.
A microscopic structure formed by certain lichens as a means of vegetative propagation: it consists of a few fungal hyphae among which are enmeshed a few cells of the symbiont. To the naked eye soredia in masses appear as a granular or fine powder.
Symbiotic relationship
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 (May 2002)
  2. Dobson, F. (2000) Lichens. An illustrated guide to the British species. The Richmond Publishing Co. Ltd., Slough.
  3. 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.
  4. Environment Agency (1998) Species and Habitats handbook; 'Look-up' chart of species and their status. The Environment Agency, Bristol.
  5. Gilbert, O.L. & Purvis, O.W. (1996) Teloschistes flavicans in Great Britain: distribution and ecology. Lichenologist28: 493-506.
  6. Allaby, M. (1998) Oxford Dictionary of Plant Sciences. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  7. Management recommendations for Teloschistes flavicans. (May 2002):
  8. Wolseley, P. & May, P.J. (1997) Resurvey and monitoring of T. flavicans in Pembrokeshire, 1997. CCW Sea Empress Contract Report 237
  9. Coppins, B (2004) Pers. comm.

Image credit

Golden hair lichen  
Golden hair lichen

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