The Lost Kingdoms and Scripts of the Lichens

The lost languages and scripts of the LichensLeconara pacifica/Amandinea punctata – Lynette Schimming

‘The cartographers guilds struck a map of the empire whose size was that of the empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following generations, who were not so fond of the study of cartography as their forebears had been, saw that that vast map was useless…In the deserts of the west, there are tattered ruins of that map, inhabited by animals and beggars, in all the land there is no other relic of the disciplines of geography’.

Jorge Luis Borges, “On Exactitude in Science,” in Collected Fictions (trans. Andrew Hurley)

Perhaps part of this map can still be found, or at least relics of it, in the territorial patchwork, created by the different colours and textures of neighbouring lichen colonies. Rhizocarpon Geographicum, or Map Lichen gives a classic appearance of a map or a patchwork field. The adjacent patches are separated and bordered by a black line of spores, and resemble parched desert lands, small groups of islands or even ancient cartography.

The lost languages and scripts of the LichensDetail from Ernst Heackles plate of Lichens from Artforms in Nature

These ultra-survivalist symbionts (they can survive after being exposed to deep space) also tease our pattern recognition capabilities in other curious ways. The so called Graphis Scripta generates small curved lines and glyph-like marks that resembles Asemic Writing. Depending on the species, the lirellae (spore groups) may be linear, branched, star-shaped, or labyrinth-like. The resulting ‘script’ might appear cypher text, and has been used as an aid to scrying. You can view a ‘lichen oracle table’ here, and as with all many kinds of divination techniques using cypher scripts, the bilateral symmetry on some of the glyphs insinuates the appearance of personages or animal figures.

Aside from Graphis Scripta and Rhizocarpon Geographicum there are many other interesting patterns and forms to found in other species of lichen. A small personally curated gallery can be found here and Ernst Haeckles plate of Lichens from Artforms in Nature can be found here.

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