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One way to get kids interested in lichen is to ask them to find the secret writing on woodland trees. The ‘writing’ is made by a lichen, Graphis scripta, which forms long narrow wiggledy black fruiting bodies (apothecia) on its pale smooth crust.

160219 graphis scripta (1)

Not surprisingly, this lichen’s common names include script lichen, secret writing lichen, pencil-mark lichen, or hieroglyphics lichen. It is very common on smooth-barked deciduous trees, their twigs and branches, and can be found around the world – does the writing change its language depending on location, I wonder?

160219 graphis scripta

Lichens are very sensitive to air quality and, as they are able to accumulate and retain heavy metals, they are often used as a tool to monitor heavy metal pollutants in the atmosphere. Graphis scripta has been utilised in this way by scientists studying air pollution in the Indian city of Bangalore.