How to Start Lichen ID

Where I can, I've been trying to add at least a genus to lichen photos I encounter here on iNat. Other people, with more knowledge, are also helpful at generic and even species levels. But where do you start as a novice, especially if you have no keys? With 85% of my books, including lichen ID materials, still in storage (long story), I'm thrown on the resources of the internet. Here are a few suggestions for exploring lichen basics:

Here is an online lichen key from the UK for 60 British lichens on twigs: (from the Natural History Museum at South Kensington); they also have a glossary of terms. To get started, click on fruticose, foliose, or crustose. You eventually get to a color photo of the lichen. If you get one or more results, don't assume the species is right, but it might at least point you to a genus to check out. (I got a lot of "no results" on my searches, but I was just making up characters.)

You might try checking photos at, which does a good job of showing many species in each genus.

Steve Sharnoff has some lichen basics at Photos available at may also be helpful, but this site is focused on North America.

If you narrow it down to a few species, you can check whether they occur in your area at, a database maintained by the Consortium of North American Lichen Herbaria (CNALH). Their records include specimens from all over the world. If you go to and click on your area (specify a radius to search), they will generate a checklist that you can also use as an interactive key. Very nice!!

Only the lichen portal at CNALH will give you a detailed description of important characters, but at least the others provide visual references.

Posted on January 29, 2019 08:18 PM by slwhiteco slwhiteco


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