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Oprah Joins the World of Lichens

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on March 4, 2019 by Matt Newman

Photo of lichen
Hypotrachyna oprah growing on the bark of a tree

Dolly Parton isn’t the only public figure to have a new species of lichen named after her by NYBG scientists. Following precedent in naming discoveries after incredible American women, we can now add Oprah Winfrey to the list.

A New York Botanical Garden scientist and his colleague have named a new species of lichen that can be identified in part because of its bright glow under ultraviolet light in honor of a media and entertainment figure who has been in the spotlight for four decades, in part because Oprah was born in the region where the lichen is found.

The new species, Hypotrachyna oprah, was discovered in the southeastern United States by James C. Lendemer, Ph.D., an Assistant Curator in the Botanical Garden’s Institute of Systematic Botany, and Jessica L. Allen, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Biology at Eastern Washington University. The region is a biodiversity hotspot, with a high concentration of unique species and ecosystems found nowhere else on Earth. The new species is considered rare and was possibly confused with another lichen species in the past.

Drs. Lendemer and Allen describe Hypotrachyna oprah, which they have given the common name “Oprah’s sunshine lichen,” in a paper for Castanea, the journal of the Southern Appalachian Botanical Society.