I have seen many patches of dark grey or brown, gelatinous lichens, in my ramblings, but for some reason had never identified any. I think I got scared off a couple years ago, the first time I paged through my brand new copy of ‘Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest’ (McCune/Geiser) and found over a dozen species of dark Collema and Leptogium that, to my untrained eye, all looked the same.
But, because of this project, I made the effort when I found this one on The Cliff, and I got lucky that it was an easy identification. Antlered jellyskin (which almost makes the cut for an accepted common name) is a wonderfully evocative and accurate name for this species, since the aforementioned ‘antlers’, which are actually formed by the inwardly rolled margins of the lobes, are diagnostic to this species. And the thallus certainly looks gelatinous!
As for the scientific name, a major revision of the family Collemataceae was undertaken based on both morphology and molecular biology, (Jorgensen/Wedin; 2014), and the catchall genera of Collema and Leptogium were circumscribed, and 6 generic names were added. One of those is Scytinium, to which this species (formerly Leptogium palmatum/Leptogium cornicularum) was added.
Scytinium palmatum is an important lichen in the revegetation and restoration process on disturbed ground. It has a major impact as both a soil stabilizer and nitrogen fixing agent, and is often one of the pioneers colonizing abused ground. And, especially when it is wet and intermixed with the contrasting, vibrant greens of its usual moss cohorts, it is aesthetically pleasing to look at, striking and even handsome, albeit in a sort of gothic way.
Description-Dark grey to brownish gray (grayer in shadier locations, browner where there is more light), translucent when hydrated; foliose tending to fruticose thallus; margins of lobes and their apices rolled inward (revolute), forming the eponymous antlers; individual specimens up to 6cm in diameter; sometimes forms large mats; often with brownish apothecia; lacks soredia and isidia; photobiont is the cyanobacteria Nostoc.
Similar species– Nothing similar in color and growth form has the rolled margins of the lobes.
Habitat– On relatively open soil or rock, in road cuts, abandoned roads, revegetating clearcuts; often in conjunction with moss; low to mid elevations
Range– Mostly west of the Cascades, with a disjunct population in n Idaho.
Etymology of names– Scytinium is from the Greek and means ‘having the nature of skin/leather’, which I’m guessing references the look of dry, brown specimens. The epithet palmatum means ‘palm like’ in Latin, and probably refers to the occasional open thallus.