Golden hair lichen (Teloschistes flavicans)

GenusTeloschistes (1)
SizeLength of lobes: up to 4 cm (7)
Top facts

The golden-hair lichen is classified as Vulnerable in Great Britain (2), and protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (4).

The golden-hair lichen (Teloschistes flavicans) is a striking 'fruticose' or 'shrubby' tufted lichen, which is a bright orange colour (2) with highly branched, flattened lobes (7). The name of the genus Teloschistes means 'split ends' (7).

At present this lichen is restricted to the Welsh coast and south-west England, but the range once extended into central England and along the coast to Kent. A population also occurred in the Firth of Clyde (2). In Europe, the distribution is Mediterranean-Atlantic, the northern extreme of which is in Anglesey. Elsewhere this lichen becomes widespread in tropical and the warmer temperate areas of the world (2) (8).

The main habitat of this species in the UK is coastal cliff-tops; it either grows on rock, amongst vegetation, or on stony ground (2). It occasionally occurs inland where it inhabits trunks of trees that are rich in nutrients, typically in parkland, hedgerows and orchards (2).

Lichens are remarkable organisms; they consist of an alga and a fungus living together in a symbiotic association(2). A general rule is that the fungal component of a lichen is unable to live independently, but the alga may live without the fungal partner as a distinct species (2). Many lichens are known to be very sensitive to environmental pollution, and they have been used as 'indicators' of pollution (3). This genus is thought by some experts to be very ancient, and some species may have remained unchanged for millions of years (6). The golden hair lichen reproduces asexually, either by the body of the lichen (the thallus) breaking into pieces, or by means of 'soredia', microscopic structures that look like powder to the naked eye, and contain fungal threads and a few algal cells (3).

This species is known to be extremely sensitive to sulphur dioxide air pollution (5). Other possible threats include extended dry periods and trampling (5), eutrophication, in particular excess air-bourne ammonia resulting from applications of slurry (9), as well as loss of suitable habitat caused by excessive growth of ivy on hedgerow trees (9).

Although the golden hair lichen is not a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species, English Nature's Species Recovery Programme has carried out surveys of the species (2). Furthermore, the Countryside Council for Wales has carried out survey and monitoring work on this lichen (2), including an assessment of the health of populations after the Sea Empress oil spill (5). This lichen also receives special protection under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

For more on this species in Wales see: Wolseley, P. & May, P.J. (1997). Resurvey and monitoring of T. flavicans in Pembrokeshire. Countryside Council for Wales Sea Empress Contract Report 237. Available on-line at:

For more on British lichens see: Dobson, F. (2000) Lichens. An illustrated guide to the British species. The Richmond Publishing Co. Ltd., Slough.

Information authenticated by Dr Brian Coppins of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh with the support of the British Ecological Society

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (May 2002)
  2. Dobson, F. (2000) Lichens. An illustrated guide to the British species. The Richmond Publishing Co. Ltd., Slough.
  3. Church, J.M., Coppins, B.J., Gilbert, O.L., James, P.W. & Stewart, N.F. (1996) Red Data Book of Britain and Ireland: lichens. Volume 1: Britain. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.
  4. Environment Agency (1998) Species and Habitats handbook; 'Look-up' chart of species and their status. The Environment Agency, Bristol.
  5. Gilbert, O.L. & Purvis, O.W. (1996) Teloschistes flavicans in Great Britain: distribution and ecology. Lichenologist28: 493-506.
  6. Allaby, M. (1998) Oxford Dictionary of Plant Sciences. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  7. Management recommendations for Teloschistes flavicans. (May 2002):
  8. Wolseley, P. & May, P.J. (1997) Resurvey and monitoring of T. flavicans in Pembrokeshire, 1997. CCW Sea Empress Contract Report 237
  9. Coppins, B (2004) Pers. comm.