A Leading Expert in Lichen Taxonomy
Today is the birthday of the lichenologist Annie Lorrain Smith who was born on this day in 1854.
Smith was a British fungal biologist specializing in lichens. Her siblings all went by the last name, “Lorrain Smith,” but Annie published under the name "A L Smith."
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Let's pause for a minute to talk about Smith's favorite topic: lichens.
Lichen grows on bark and rocks. They are not plants. When you look at them microscopically, you'll see they are a complex life form that is a symbiotic partnership between a fungus and an alga. The fungus calls the shots, and they give the lichen its characteristics. Some lichens even have two fungi.
Lichens fall into three primary growth forms: Fruticose or "shrubby," foliose or "leafy," and Crustose or "crusty." Shrubby lichen grows outward. Folios are flat - two dimensional - like a leaf. You can peel them off the tree or rock, and they have a top and bottom side. Crusty lichen grows directly onto the surface, and it is so attached that you can't lift them off the rock or tree without destroying them.
OK. Back to Smith...
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As a young woman, Smith worked as a governess and science teacher. When she was 34, Smith found herself drawn to reading more about botany, and she went to Imperial College to study under the British Botanist Dr. Dukinfield Henry Scott.
Scott recognized Smith's aptitude for the subject, and he made arrangments for her to work at the British Museum (Natural History). It would be her professional home for 46 years.
During all of her time at the Museum, Smith worked as an ‘unpaid’ assistant. Her mentor, Dr. Scott, personally ensured that she was modestly compensated so that she could work without officially being on the museum's payroll.
By 1900, Smith was one of the world's leading experts in lichen taxonomy. Smith worked to integrate lichens into mycology. She produced the first workable keys for identifying British lichens. Her 1921 book simply called Lichens was a revelation:
“It is so full of matter that one marvels at the […] author in collecting and arranging the work on the various aspects of [lichens] into critical articles and then weaving these articles together … to form a connected whole, which may be read with pleasure and profit, not only by a lichenologist, but also by a general botanical reader.”
Smith helped found the British Mycological Society, and she was also the first female president of that organization.