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Lichen As A Dye Source: Be Careful How You Collect

Karen Richards

When winter comes to Oregon, trees retain their green thanks to lichen. With the growing popularity of natural materials and hand-crafting, making dye from lichen is on the rise.

Botanist Cheshire Mayrsohn started lichen dying about ten years ago. She’s the only one teaching classes in the Eugene area.

Credit Karen Richards
Mayrsohn counted eight species of lichen on this branch. The walnut trees in these slash piles will be burned. Mayrsohn and other collectors got permission from the landowner to use the lichen.

Mayrsohn tells KLCC, “Lichens pretty much dye animal fibers. Wool and silk work the best. You can dye your hair, though it makes your hair stink.”


She says cooking lichen into dye is simple but slow. It can create pink, purple or gold, depending on the type. And Oregon has about 12,000 species. 


“I use the most common lichens," says Mayrsohn. "Lichens are a really important part of the nutrient cycling of the forest. I pick stuff up off the road because it’s not really going to contribute to the forest.”


When collecting, it’s important to know the laws and the ethics. Mayrsohn says when lichen for Harris Tweed was in demand, about eight species in England went extinct. 


It's okay to pick lichen off wood that will be burned or used in wood products, but lichen on downed branches in the woods contributes to the ecosystem and should be left alone. 


Karen Richards joined KLCC as a volunteer reporter in 2012, and became a freelance reporter at the station in 2015. In addition to news reporting, she’s contributed to several feature series for the station, earning multiple awards for her reporting.
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