Garibaldi Park Whistler A to Z: UsneaThe pale green shub-like growths hanging from trees in the forests around Whistler is called usnea.  These bushy, coral-like fruticose lichens anchor to bark and branches on trees and hang like tinsel on a Christmas tree.  known as old man’s beard, usnea tends to thrive on dead and dying trees and is can appear to be harming their hosts.  They actually do no harm to trees and prefer dying ones for their lack of sunlight blocking canopy growth. 

Whistler & Garibaldi Hiking

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Usnea need sunlight for photosynthesis and clean, unpolluted air to grow well.  Air pollution significantly hinders their growth, especially sulfur dioxide. In heavily polluted environments growth is measured in millimetres, in good environments like Whistler and Garibaldi Park, they tend to grow 10 to 20 centimetres long. When you encounter forests with plentiful usnea draped over branches, you have found a bioindicator that the region has high quality, clean air.  Many of Whistler area hiking trails pass through sections of forest with astounding amounts of usnea hanging from branches.  Usnea is slow growing and is able to endure long periods of hot dry weather.  Sections of the Brew Lake and Newt Lake trails, for example, have rocky, exposed ridges with very little soil covering the bedrock.  These areas are frequently starved of water and the hardy trees that survive are desiccated and sickly looking.  These are great environments for usnea to grow and give these sections of brutalized trees a strangely haunting appearance.  Usnea has antibiotic properties and is effective to treat skin infections.  When applied to wounds, usnea appears to fight infection and speed up the healing process.  It is simply pulled from a tree, moistened with water and held against the wound.  The active component is usnic acid and according to Paul Bergner, in his book Medical Herbalism, its antibacterial properties have shown to be effective against staphylococcus bacteria, streptococcus bacteria and even a bacterium that commonly causes pneumonia.

Usnea at Green Lake in Whistler

Usnea on the Wedgemount Lake Trail in Whistler

Usnea on the Panorama Ridge Trail

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Whistler and Garibaldi Park Hiking Gear Rental

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