Some of the most beautiful plants found in the woods don’t grow any taller than a couple inches if that, and most times are simply overlooked due to their size. One of my all time favorites is British Soldier, Cladonia cristatella also known as the little less common name of Red Crested Lichen. For me this lichen rates up there on the beauty scale right along side Painted Trillium or Tiger Lilly. The red cap which produces the spores for reproduction gives the lichen it’s name. These red caps remind you of the coats the English soldiers wore during the Revolutionary War. Such a fitting name as I gaze upon the plant and envision a brigade of Red Coats ready to march on the colonies, each little stalk representing a British Soldier. I’m not sure if my love affair with this little primitive plant is due to it’s striking color or the rich history of the revolution that abounds here, but it surely is beautiful.
Of the three types of lichens British Soldier is of the frutose type, meaning simply that it is shrub-like or branching in stalks just as Reindeer Lichen is. Reindeer Lichen looks just like British Soldier but without the red cap. British Soldiers love decaying wood, so next time your out for a hike look around on top of old stumps, downed logs, even on old wood fence posts and you may see a single soldier or a whole platoon at attention together. England may have lost the war for the colonies over 200 years ago but the sight of the Red Coats marching through the woods remains alive and well today, and what a beautiful sight it is.
Happy Hiking !!