As with other lichens, Scrambled egg lichen is formed of two separate organisms, fungi and algae, which have established a symbiotic relationship, where the algae photosynthesises and releases sugars enabling the fungi to grow; whilst the fungi provide structure and protection in environments where the algae could not otherwise survive. This is a slow growing species, historically rare in Britain but now believed extinct in the east due to habitat loss, traffic fume levels and competitive vegetative growth, whereas it formerly survived on the area’s chalky substrate.
Scrambled egg lichen is extremely sensitive to atmospheric nitrates and ammonia so will not grow where these exist, so can be used as an indicator of air quality.
A nationally rare and endangered species, scrambled egg lichen requires an open, well-lit, free draining substrate such as limestone or sand formed from shells and most often develops on other mosses or rocks at or near sea level in the south and west of the UK. Penhale Sands is a hotspot as it is believed between 50-60% of the UK’s scrambled egg lichen population is set amongst the dunes. You can also help scientists and conservationists by recording your sightings if you believe you see one.
We've installed fences at Penhale Dunes to protect some of the scrambled egg lichen populations. By introducing grazers like cows, ponies and rabbits to our dunes too, we also help keep the vegetation growth low and allow habitats to be created in which the scrambled egg lichen thrives.
Its common name gives a clue of what to look out for - this fungus really does look like scrambled egg! It may be growing directly on the moss Trichostomum crispulum and has a crust like yellow body (thallus) which is often paler in the middle with scattered orange fruits of 1.5mm and/or narrow propagules which break off to form new plants, revealing white underneath where the propagule formerly existed.
Projects protecting Scrambled Egg Lichen
At Penhale, you can’t miss these eye-catching dunes, standing around 90 metres above sea level, they’re pretty tall for a dune system. On the north coast of Cornwall near the town of Perranporth, Penhale Dunes are part of the Cornish Killas National Character Area and a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The wide and sandy, three kilometre-long Perran beach in front provides sand for the dune system, which is blown up into the dunes by the wind.