Selected Plants of Navajo Rangelands

Take care of our Navajo Rangelands


Brownish-green and white lichens with a flat growth habit clinging to a rock

Lichens are not a single organism but rather a symbiotic organism composed of fungi and algae. Lichens grow in a wide variety of habitats including on trees, on rocks, and in the soil. They have the ability to absorb a great deal of moisture. They fulfill a vital ecosystem function because they have the ability to gather atmospheric nitrogen and convert it into a form that plants can use. This is particularly important in the desert where there is very little nitrogen available to plants. Lichens also slowly break down rocks to create soil. Lastly, lichens do not thrive in situations with environmental pollution, and they are therefore an indicator of pollution levels. Both wildlife and humans use lichens. Deer browse on lichens, and birds use lichens as nesting material. Humans eat some lichens and also use them for dye. Lichens display diverse colors and morphology, filling the spectrum from black to red to white. Lichens can be flat or crusty or scaly. Some even grow in the form of tiny shrubs.

Brown lichen with a slightly crinkly growth habit, slightly raised from the rock substrate
Red, brown, and black lichens growing on a rock. The red lichen has a slightly raised profile and bumpy texture.
A light green lichen with a slightly bumpy, raised growth habit
A whitish-green, flat lichen growing on a textured rock

Copyright 2018 New Mexico State University. Individual photographers retain all rights to their images. Partially funded by the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (; 435.797.2257), project EW15-023. Programs and projects supported by Western SARE are equally open to all people. NMSU is an equal opportunity/affirmative action educator and employer..

NMSU does not discriminate on the basis of age, ancestry, color, disability, gender identity, genetic information, national origin, race, religion, retaliation, serious medical condition, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, spousal affiliation or protected veteran status in its programs and activities as required by equal opportunity/affirmative action regulations and laws and university policy and rules. For more information please read the NMSU Notice of Non-discrimination (opens in new window).