A pale green and orange lichen sits on a rough, dark grey rock
Alexey Melechin/Unsplash

5 Tips On How To Live Like a Lichen

Simple lessons from a complex life form


Bow down.

Bring your face, your heart, your hands, your belly, down, down, close to the ground—to the rock of the world, the dirt, duff, sand. Let surface meet surface, warm cheek meet cool stone. Go ahead, belly flop flat on the sidewalk. Greet what you are not. Lichens love and adhere to their surfaces, love to sink into their substrates, mineral or wood, anything that stays still. Draw close. From this horizontal perspective, everything is more. More elaborate, more complex, more articulate, more beautiful. And oh, how the small, slow, odd, humble things begin to matter differently.




Before doing, before speaking, before leaving. Linger. What happens when you listen, or let another lead? If you decide not to take up all available space, you may realize how space and time are ample, shared. Crustose lichens grow less than a centimeter a year, and live all sorts of lifetimes, some up to 10,000 years. Find possibility in deceleration. There is no rush.




Understand, lichens cannot regulate their own moisture content. We say poikilohydric to describe this quality of openness that allows moisture to pass in and out of their bodies without restraint. Lichens also invent complex hyperbolic curves and spectacularly bizarre body forms to maximize their exposure to the sun. We too are exposed to, and continuous with, our environment. You may think of yourself as distinct from what surrounds you, but can you say no to air, water, light? Open up to that vulnerability, and feel its relief.




Lichens resist cultivation. While they produce unique chemical compounds that attract biotechnologists, they grow too slowly to be harvested profitably at any scale. This is lichens’ refusal. They will not twist into instruments of profit. They will not be used or erased by commodification. Their refusal inspires us to resist the destruction of worlds.




Never forget, you are not alone. Lichens thrive because of their cross-kingdom symbioses, the braiding of fungi, algae, and other life. This collectivity strengthens their resilience to environmental stresses, allows them to adapt and thrive in a wild variety of climates. Come together and you, too, will thrive in relation and collaboration. Like Ruthie Gilmore says, “Everything worth doing is better when done with others.”


Intrigued? Learn how to be more like a lichen in Laurie’s book.

A. Laurie Palmer is an artist, writer, and professor in the art department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her work takes form as sculpture, public projects, and publications, and she collaborates on strategic actions in the contexts of social and environmental justice. Her book, The Lichen Museum, explores lichens’ role as an anti-capitalist companion and climate change survivor.