Santa Claus, Conservation Groups Benefit from ‘Tree Beard’ Lichen Named for Late U of G Plantsman

Published: December 16, 2011
Posted in: News Coverage
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A newly discovered lichen resembling “tree beards” will carry the name of a late University of Guelph horticulturist, author and master gardener.

The new species of horsehair lichen will be called Bryoria kockiana for Henry Kock, former interpretive horticulturist at the U of G Arboretum and a leading authority on native woody plants. He died in 2005 of brain cancer. His wife, Anne Hansen, purchased the scientific naming rights to the lichen this week.

The new species was discovered in a British Columbia rainforest by lichenologist Trevor Goward. He organized an auction for naming rights for two of his recent finds to benefit two B.C. conservation groups.

“With Christmas coming, here’s a perfect opportunity to give something back to Canada,” he said, explaining why he created the online auction.

The auction closed Dec. 15. Proceeds from Kock’s newly named lichen will benefit the Ancient Rainforest Alliance, a Victoria-based group that helps protect old-growth forests.

Hansen said buying the naming rights was the perfect holiday gift.

“Many people go into debt in December for toys and gadgets that will soon be obsolete. Lichens have been around since ancient biological times. If we do something fast about climate change, lichens will be here far into the future,” she said.

“And I’m not the only one who’s noticed that the lichen looks like Henry’s beard,” said Hansen, who moved from Guelph to B.C. in 2007.

A combination of fungi and algae, lichen provide critical winter food for mountain caribou and black-tailed deer.

Goward said, “Without lichens, caribou and reindeer would soon disappear, and where would Santa Claus be then?”

“We couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate benefactor,” he said, adding that Kock’s “work as a conservationist really deserves to be recognized.”

Kock joined U of G in 1981. He led interpretive walks and educational programs at the Arboretum and spoke regularly to gardeners and naturalist groups. He helped organize U of G’s first Organic Agriculture Conference in 1982.

He established gene banks for rare plants and launched the province’s Elm Recovery Project. Kock received the Governor General’s Award for Forest Stewardship in 1998 and was named one of Canada’s most outstanding gardeners in 2004. His book, Growing Trees from Seed, was completed by botanist colleagues after his death.

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