Getting to Know Saskatchewan Lichens

29 February 2012

Getting to Know Saskatchewan Lichens
by Bernard de Vries
Published by Nature Saskatchewan
Review by Sandy Bonny
$ 19.95 ISBN-978-0-921104-26-1
Working between the fields of geology, biology and naturalist fiction, I have spent a lot of time with field guides. These books are tools—a prompt to explore and a means to identify those subtle components of our natural environments that we so commonly overlook. Every now and then a guide appears that bests the beauty of its utility and brings its subject forwards as literature. “Getting to Know Saskatchewan Lichens” is a refreshingly good read—an introductory guide that effuses esteem for the patience and hardiness of its subjects.
Author Dr. Bernard de Vries is one of Canada’s foremost lichen experts and an enthusiastic advocate for the protection of rare lichen species. “Getting to Know Saskatchewan Lichens” has been complied as a tribute to de Vries’ favorite flora and, with his broad experiences in public science education (as a teacher, university lecturer and botanical museum curator), novice naturalists are in skilled hands.

Growing as symbioses of photosynthetic microbes and fungi, lichen work nutrients from wood, soil or stone, and draw water from the air. The guide’s introduction provides an overview of lichen physiology and highlights their vital and often overlooked roles in ecosystem regulation. Lichens enrich soil through nitrogen fixation and carbon storage, regulate moisture and humidity in soil and forest litter through their absorptive properties, and provide a rich nutrient source for herbivores through winter months. Growing slowly, tolerant of but responsive to extreme climatic variations, they also play an important role as indicators of environmental change within Saskatchewan’s disparate eco-zones.

The guide pairs large, detailed colour photographs with common and scientific names, plain language descriptions, and interesting ecological notes and commentary for over fifty species of common and endangered lichen. Candidly acknowledging a dearth of information about the distribution of lesser-known species, the book forwards an invitation to amateur lichenologists to contribute to the reportage and documentation of these wonderful ‘plants.’ Species are grouped by growth substrate and eco-zone, a feature with obvious benefits for identification in the field, and many photographs are scaled at twice the actual size, allowing side-by-side comparison between images and field specimens. The bright and varied colours of Saskatchewan’s lichens lend themselves to artistic photography and cover-to-cover, this guide is simply beautiful.


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