Epiphytes and Bryophytes

Most people, if they tramp through forests, look upwards and admire the trees that tower above them. Few realise what microscopic but magical worlds they may be crushing beneath their feet.

Let me show you some. This series of ‘portraits’, each a composite of a hundred or so frames magnified more than twenty times, reveals the astounding miniature landscapes created by nothing more than delicately-coloured lichens and mosses growing, for the most part, on dead oak.

Here, in detail scarcely visible to the naked eye, you can find dense groves of emerald green palms, jungles of feathery tentacles and spiky outcrops resembling coral reefs. You can discover smooth fronds like the pale grey beds of dried-up lakes or cratered lunar plains. Search carefully and you can see odd knobbly protrusions like miniscule heads of broccoli or florets of cauliflower, and tiny pink fungi resembling nothing so much as delicate parasols.

These are exotic, fairy-tale landscapes; Tolkienesque terrains combining mystery and menace, enchanted panoramas of surreal shapes, unique forms and subtly blending colours.

The most amazing thing of all, perhaps, is that most of this breath-taking beauty springs from decay. Much of this tumult of colour and form erupts from decomposing woodland. The lichens feed and flourish on that which is dying; and some bryophytes finally enjoy their renaissance after having been dormant for centuries.

In nature there is no correlation between magnificence and size. Sometimes the most amazing creations are so small that they are - quite literally - lost in the trees.