A symbiotic blend of fungus and algae that lives off the air but attaches to trees, rocks and ground. There are an estimated 700 to 800 kinds of lichen in Minnesota with intriguing names such as star rosette, crumpled rag, sea storm, powdered sunshine, fringed wrinkle, and British soldiers, which grow upright and are red.
Five to look for
Elegant sunburst lichen: Possibly the best-known lichen, sunburst lichen gives the dark ledge rocks along Lake Superior their bright orange color.
Lungwort: This green, leafy lichen thrives in old, well-established maple forests.
Rock tripe: Big and leafy, this lichen attaches to rocks around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Lake Superior.
Bearded moss: Like a northern version of Spanish moss, this can be seen dangling from trees in moist areas.
Firedot: These little yellow-green dots often show up in cemeteries.
Take a hike
1. North Shore. Lichen — especially sunburst lichen — can be spotted at wayside beaches with ledge rocks vs. cobblestones.
2. Grand Portage State Park. The handicapped-accessible path heads through boreal forest and offers a glimpse of beard moss, which is actually a lichen that hangs from branches and thrives on the moist overspray from the state’s largest waterfall.
3. Blue Mound State Park, Luverne. Visitors to rosy quartzite that juts out of the prairie (popular with rock climbers) can find plenty of lichen. Across the South Dakota border in Palisade State Park, there’s a lichen hike to download.
Ferns and allies
Statewide, there are more than 80 ferns (with names such as beech, cinnamon, bracken and interrupted) along with fern-like allies such as rushes and mosses that likewise produce spores and generally love shady, moist habitats.
Five to look for
Maidenhair fern: These shoot up delicate red fiddleheads in the spring.
Ostrich fern: For foragers, this is the best bet for sautéing fiddleheads in the spring.
Horsetail rushes: These stand tall and straight and are topped with what almost looks like a tiny pine cone.
Club moss: Often mistaken for young conifers and sometimes called ground pine, these can look like a fairy-sized forest.
Spikemoss: These are not true mosses, but they spread out in an intricate, lush carpet.
Take a hike
1. Minneopa State Park, Mankato. Hike into the cool, mossy, creek-carved ravines dotted with ferns, including the sensitive fern. As a bonus, enjoy the waterfall and look for the park’s resident herd of bison.
2. Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, Northfield. A stellar stop for spring wildflowers, it’s also an excellent hike through a shady Big Woods rich in ferns, rushes and moss.
3. Forestville State Park, Preston. The karst topography here is rich in caves, natural springs and just the kind of cool, misty areas loved by ferns and their allies — especially on the hike to the Big Spring.