Lichen body a much branched tuft resembling a very unkempt beard emerging from bark or bare wood (the collected specimen at right has been partially flattened). The base, that is, where it attaches to the substrate, is sometimes darkened (below left). The branches are covered with numerous tiny branchlets (fibrils) and little round clumps of powdery material called soredia, which is most clearly seen in the pictures at lower left and lower right. The soredia consists of clumps or algae and fungi and can grow into new lichens if blown, rubbed or washed away. A tough central cord runs down the center of each branch, and is hot pink to red, hence the common name.
This striking lichen grows on bark or bare wood in full sun. It grows in profusion on the fence at the Park Street entrance to Wildwood. It is also found on branches high in the treetops, where it can soak up sunshine, and is thus sometimes found on fallen branches. The specimen at right was collected off a fallen branch by students in a Mycology class at Radford University.
The genus Usnea is easily distinguished from other genera of bushy lichens by grasping a branch at both ends and gently pulling. If it breaks cleanly, it is something else, but if there is a tough central cord sticking out of one of the pieces, visible with a magnifying class (see below middle), it is an Usnea.
There are, so far, three known species of Usnea in the Park and all look alike at first glance. Bushy Beard (U. strigosa) has many bumps called papillae instead of soredia, but it is hard to tell a papilla from a clump of soredia without a microscope. Unfortunately, they both have pink central cords. However, Bushy Beard almost always produces reproductive structures that look like sickly flowers. Bristly Beard (U. hirta) lacks soredia, is densely covered with very fine fibrils, and its central cord is cottony white