AlanS's picture

"Foliose" is not a species

I note that once again, lichens are being posted under 'names' like "Foliose" or "Fruticose".

That's like someone taking a photograph of a thrush and posting it under the identification of "Brown".

"Foliose" and "fruticose" are descriptions of growth forms, along with "crustose", "leprose", "squamulose", etc. These are useful terms in keys, but they are merely an indication of the general morphology of how a particular lichen partnership has developed. Quite different growth forms have developed in single genera - for example all our Aspicilia species in the UK are crustose, but there are fruticose species in other parts of the world.

Also, not every lichen neatly fits our arbitrary, human-imposed classification.

I am not trying to get at anyone and have avoided quoting examples from recent posts, though I do notice that people treating these growth forms as pseudo-species tend to be Open University students. (There again, statistically, that would be likely anyway.)

I just think that people should attempt something a bit more meaningful - no shame in getting IDs wrong, all part of the leaning experience.

BTW, if anyone is interested, I am no ornithologist but I looked out of my window this morning and was confidently able to identify two Black & Whites.

This was good, as the old rhyme forcasts that "two is for joy".




AlanS's picture

Just to be clear

Just to be clear, I am not criticising headings like "Unknown foliose lichen". It is when "Foliose" is treated as a species (I went out and saw Foliose this morning) or as the ID as if that is all the ID needed.

As I say, if someone posts a picture of a thrush, even if they don't know it's a thrush, they are unlikely to give it the ID "Brown".


WS159's picture

I note that once again,

I note that once again, lichens are being posted under 'names' like "Foliose" or "Fruticose". That's like someone taking a photograph of a thrush and posting it under the identification of "Brown".

It's more like someone posting a description of a thrush as "speckled". ie grey foliose = brown speckled. Colour and structure. Gives more useful information than you are implying.

WS159's picture

The website guidlines:iSpot

The website guidlines:

iSpot is a website aimed at helping anyone identify anything in nature.


If you know what group your observation belongs to, but not exactly which species, you can just give a group, family or genus name as the identification, instead of the full species name. However, we'd recommend that you try to narrow it down as much as you can - if all you know is that your observation is an "insect" or a "plant" that's absolutely fine, but in that case just say so in description of your observation and leave the identification blank.

[NB that for students taking the OU's Neighbourhood Nature course (S159) there is a requirement that you should make an identification yourself, otherwise the Observation won't be counted towards your course assignment, so you do need to provide your 'best guess' as to what the species is, or what group it belongs to. This may then be revised by someone else, which is exactly what iSpot is for - you are not being marked on whether you get it right first time, or whether someone else corrects it for you, the main thing is to go through the process of trying to identify it as far as you can and then using iSpot to check your results.]

This allows for people who have no idea of id to make a post, yet is at the same time instructing OU students to make a guess at id however inaccurate it may be.

synan's picture


It seems to me that the iSpot guidelines only reinforce Alan's point. I take "group, family or genus" to mean a biological taxon and not an adjective (foliose etc).

I don't know what the course requirements are, but if naming the growth form is the minimum requirement, surely the description is the place to put it, because neither the 'Scientific name' nor 'Common name' fields are. If a genuine attempt at an identification needs to be made, the growth form doesn't qualify, but the 'groups' Fungi or Ascomycota might do, depending how lenient tutors are. If "group", which I take to mean a taxonomic rank, is intended in the iSpot sense of 'Fungi & Lichens' or 'Plants', then even less is required.

I suspect some ambiguity in the course instructions needs ironing out.


ajm's picture

No ambiguity - just follow the instructions!

As someone who has just completed the OU S159 Neighbourhood Nature course, but who was also posting to iSpot 9 months before starting the course, may I try and shed some light on this perennial debate

There is in fact no ambiguity in the course instructions. The Lichen Hunt is an activity in week 1 of the course - a course which assumes no previous knowledge of the subject. The purpose is to encourage participants to search for and record simple measurements in their immediate neighbourhood. Crustose/foliose/fruticose is described in basic detail. There is no expectation that students should be able to make species identification at this stage. Students are also encouraged to register on iSpot and familiarise themselves with the site, its functions etc., but no observation postings are expected at this point.

Posting of observations on iSpot is not expected until at least week 6, by which point the course will have covered biological classification, habitat variation, identification keys and online resources, scientific measurement techniques etc etc. Problems may occur if participants go straight from week 1 to week 6 activities without following the coursework as intended.

As Nigel has suggested, WS159 seems to have completely missed the point that the iSpot guidelines (s)he is keen to quote in fact totally reinforce Alan's original point.

Finally - I understand the Neighbourhood Nature course is to be withdrawn by the OU, and the course just started within the past fortnight is the final presentation of this course. Perhaps the crustose/foliose/fruticose problem will be gone for good!

AlanS's picture

My quotes are accurate

I don't object to a preliminary ID of "grey foliose lichen". But there are instances of just the work "foliose" or "crustose", used as if they are species.

I am not going to cite actual examples as someone may realise the words are theirs and feel "got at", which is absolutely not my intention. I am making a general point.