An epiphyte is an organism that grows on the surface of a plant and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, water or from debris accumulating around it. While epiphytes in the tropics are know to be rather splendid in size and diversity the boreal zone has its fair share of epiphytic organisms as well. They may not be as charismatic as their tropical counterparts, but they are just as beautiful. This naked branch of a pine, that is no more than a foot in length, is covered in at least two different types of lichens and a bit of moss as well. While it is getting crowded on the branch, when it comes to lichens, things happen very slowly due to their slow rate of growth.
The prevailing view of lichens for the last 150 years or so has been that they a composite organism resulting from a mutually beneficial relationship between a fungus and an algae. It turns out that recent research from the University of Alberta (which is in my neck of the woods) has found that this relationship is more complex than previously thought. Researchers found that a lichen may be made up of up to three different fungi and that no two lichens necessarily have the same mix of fungal partners. Most lichens are rather plain looking, not particularly flashy and are easily overlooked. What this research shows is how little we know and understand about nature that is right under our noses. One could easily spend an entire lifetime understanding and studying nature that is right outside ones doorstep without needing to go to any more exotic locations.