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I Dream Africa

I Dream Africa

Fungi

   

The Namib Desert appears to be bare of plant life, however, lichens grow in great diversity on west facing slopes and surfaces where they are able to draw moisture from the sea fogs. If it were not for the fog, the plants would have no source of water. Lichens are a combination of algae and fungi, so technically they are not true plants, and it is the fungus that forms the body, called the thallus. They lack common names and usually occur on the central Namib's gypsum crusts, in huge numbers and a variety unknown to the rest of the planet.

Some of the intricately branched Namib lichens almost resemble corals, whilst others look like dried leaves.

Lichens grow where there is a combination of light and high humidity; the light to provide energy for photosynthesis, and the moisture to keep the association between fungi and algae hydrated. This goes someway to explaining their abundance in the Namib, where large amounts of sunshine, fog and dew provide the daily light and moisture requirement.

Lichens grow extremely slowly, but stabilize the surface and prevent soil erosion. These plants are now recognized as a vital component of the Namib environment, and most areas are protected. They provide food for a variety of invertebrates and even springbok at times. It is estimated that some of these lichen fields are hundreds or even thousands of years old, as they can survive long periods of drought. However, the plants die if they are disturbed.

Unfortunately, vehicle tracks are one of the most evident threats to lichen fields, and once they are damaged, require decades to grow back. The bright, orange-coloured lacy lichens on the surface of pebbles are often carried away by visitors wanting a memento of the Namib. This is to be discouraged, as the lichen will gradually fade and die when removed from its natural habitat. The most extensive lichen fields are found north of Swakopmund.

   
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