by Philip F. May

About this webpage

Here are some suggestions for new students on how to collect lichens.

1. Collect good quality material. Look around for a good specimen rather than collecting the first one you see. Collect mature thalli, and if possible, fertile ones. Collect entire, intact thalli, unless a species seems to be locally uncommon. In that case, part should be left to regenerate. If a species is small but common, try to collect more than one thallus.

2. Collect healthy specimens, i.e., without discoloration, unless you are interested in lichen parasites. Be wary of lichens not in their original position, because after a few weeks they may sicken and start to die. Sick or infected lichens are harder to identify than healthy ones, and they make poor reference specimens.

3. Collect in areas not visible to the public--away from trails, picnic areas, and other high use areas. Collecting often scars the trees, rocks, and moss banks that lichens grow on. Collecting crustose lichens on trees frequently opens wounds, which can lead to infections. Try to take off only the outer bark. Weigh the damage of collecting versus your desire for a given specimen. We can justify collecting better if we have valid scientific or educational intent.

4. Basic tools and supplies:

5. Other useful field items:

6. When collecting, place specimens in breathable bags or folded packets made of brown, white, or wax paper or newsprint. Try to put only one species from one substrate in each bag or packet.

7. Keep good field records. You often must know the substrate a lichen was growing on and it's locality to key it out. In addition, your specimens may someday provide useful information to a researcher--you or someone else. Lichen distributions and ecology are often poorly known. Your collections may help.

Write down data at the time you collect a specimen. Do not rely on your memory. This is especially true if you're collecting several lichens. If you can't keep field records, it's best to leave the collecting for another day.

Field records should include the substrate, collection date, collector, locality, elevation, and habitat. If you feel ambitious, you can add microhabitat or lichen community. Locality information typically includes the country, state, county, town or township, name of locality, directions to the collecting site, plus its latitude/longitude or UTM coordinates if available. In addition, every collecting packet should be assigned a unique collection number.

There are many systems for recording and keeping track of field data. If you are collecting only one or two specimens, the information can go directly on the packet. For larger collections, a field notebook saves much repetition.

8. Thoroughly air dry new collections as soon as possible to prevent them from rotting. After drying, you may wish to freeze the lichens for five days at -20° C ( -5° F) in your home freezer. This will kill most arthropods without damaging the lichens. This freezing is a must if you are planning to send your lichens to anyone. Insect control!

9. After identification, transfer each lichen to a permanent packet folded from acid-free paper with 25% or higher rag content. Attach an acid-free label with the species name and the field information recorded previously. Keep for future reference.

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About this web page:

Copyright: 1996, 2000 by Philip F. May
Original date online: 01 March 2000
Revised: 13 March 2000
Comments to:
Suggested citation:

May, P.F. 2000. How to collect lichens {online}. Farlow Herbarium, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Available: