Niebla effusa

©The World Botanical Associates Web Page
Prepared by Richard W. Spjut
April 2003, Oct. 2005, Sep 2012
Additions May 2017, Dec 2021

Niebla and Vermilacinia (Ramalinaceae) from California and Baja California.  
Spjut, R.W., 1996. ISSN 0833-1475, 208 pp.  
Sida, Botanical Miscellany: 14. Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Inc.

Evolutionary history of coastal species of fog lichen genera
, Ramalina and Vermilacinia
Emmanuel Sérusiaux & Richard  Spjut
Baja California, Jan-Feb 2016

Spjut R, Simon A, Guissard M, Magain N, Sérusiaux E. 2020. The fruticose genera in the Ramalinaceae (Ascomycota, Lecanoromycetes): their diversity and evolutionary history.  MycoKeys. 73: 1–68. published online.
MycoKeys. 2020;73:1-68. Published 2020 Sep 11. doi:10.3897/mycokeys.73.47287

Evolution and diversification of Niebla
Steve Leavitt et al., Baja California, Dec 2016

Jorna J, J Linde, P Searle, A Jackson, M-E Nielsen, M Nate, N Saxton, F Grewe, M de los Angeles Herrera-Campos, R Spjut, H Wu, B Ho, S Leavitt, T Lumbsch.  Species boundaries in the messy middle -- testing the hypothesis of micro-endemism in a recently diverged lineage of coastal fog desert lichen fungi. Ecology and Evolution. Published Online: 20 Dec 2021.

Additional Discussion: See: Introduction to Niebla and its phylogeography



Niebla effusa x N. palmeri

Between El Rosario and Punta Baja, Spjut & Sérusiaux 17078, phylogeny in depsidone clade El Rosario, Punta Baja, N 30°00.075 W 115°45.965' 140 m


Niebla effusa x N. juncosa
(or N. pulchribarbara x N. juncosa)

Bahía de San Quintín, Laguna and peninsula.  On rocks near sea level
Spjut & Sérusiaux 17054
Jan 2016. Lower image shows TLC with 17078-4720

17054 from near San Quintín (SQ) shown in the above image and 17078 shown to the left.   17078 collected near Punta Baja, and 17295 from Morro Santo Domingo shown below; all appeared nested within the depsidone clade instead of the sekikaic acid clade, or in a separate clade. TLC showed both salazinic acid and sekikaic acid accompanied by triterpenes for all three specimens.  Additionally, 17078 showed protocetraric acid with triterpenes in another TLC run



Niebla effusa x N. welwitschioides
ineditus  (N.
aff. palmeri). See N. palmeri for more examples.

Spjut & Sérusiaux 17295
Morro Santo Domingo
Jan 2016

Mesa above San Antonio del Mar,
92 m, Spjut & Sérusiaux 17003
Jan 2016. Salazinic acid,
solvent B

 Mesa above San Antonio del Mar,
On sand among shrubs, 52 m
Spjut & Sérusiaux 17018
Jan 2016. Salazinic acid, fumaroprotocetraric acid?, sekikaic acid, traces of unknowns (Rf classes 4., 5, 6), usnic acid (possibly an extraction from parts of two species growing together).


Morro Santo Domingo, 130 m
Spjut & Sérusiaux 17269D
Jan 2016

Vicinity of Punta Catarina, south of point, on gypsum-based badlands, 50 m
Leavitt et al. 16-1038, Dec 2016

Southwest of San Quintín in the Punta Mazo Reserve, on volcanic slopes of Volcan Sudoeste, 70 m
Leavitt et al. 16-710, Dec 2016



Morro Santo Domingo, 130 m
Spjut & Sérusiaux 17264
Jan 2016


Morro Santo Domingo, 130 m
Spjut & Sérusiaux 17272
Jan 2016.

Bahía de San Quintín,
Laguna and peninsula

Spjut & Sérusiaux 17062A
Jan 2016. Occurring with N. palmeri

effusa-11185.jpg (73893 bytes)

Mesa above San Antonio del Mar,
Spjut & Marin 11185,
 Apr 1990

effusa-11233.jpg (167467 bytes)

Mesa Camacho,
N of Punta Canoas,
Spjut 11233, Apr 1990

effusa-11438.jpg (62611 bytes)

Arroyo Sauces, between
Punta Blanca and Punta Canoas, Spjut & Marin 11438, Apr 1990

effusa-11559-1.jpg (97046 bytes)

Bahía Santa María,
Spjut & Marin 11559,
Apr 1990

effusa-12662.jpg (110480 bytes)

3-4 miles SW of El Rosario,
 windy mesa, Spjut & Marin 12662, Apr 1993

effusa-9902a.jpg (139109 bytes)

El Marrón Ridge,
 S of Punta Negra,
 Spjut 9902, May 1986

General habit on mesa southwest of El Rosario

Ridge above Punta Baja,
Spjut 10261, Mar 1988

Ridge above Punta Baja,
Spjut 10261, Mar 1988

     Niebla effusa is a species of fruticose lichen endemic to the peninsula of Baja California, occurring along the Pacific  Coast from near Punta Santo Domingo north to Colonet. The species is recognized by the intricately interwoven  rigid prismatic branches with linear and flattened parts at various intervals that are more conspicuously dilated and arched near apex where appearing also short secund branchlets, and by containing salazinic acid without triterpenes.  Additional lichen substances of fumaroprotocetric acid or a depside, which are rare chemotype combinations with salazinic acid, are also recognized  to be variation of this species that may represent hybrids. 

     Related salazinic acid species, which often occur with N. effusa, are Niebla josecuervoi distinguished having longer comb-like branchlets more near base than apex, and Niebla arenaria that differs by terminal antler-like branchlets. Niebla flabellata, which is found more on rock faces and small stones along beaches, differs in the smaller brittle thallus having tufts of basal branches mostly flattened throughout. Also its dilated parts appear more irregular in occurrence from base to near apex, and more torn or lacerated along margins rather than branch-like.

     Niebla effusa is a dominant lichen of terricolous lichen communities, constituting much of the ground cover in a transitional coastal chaparral scrub on mesas between  Colonet and Punta Baja.  Associated terricolous species include N. arenaria, N. josecuervoi, N. juncosa var. spinulifera, N. palmeri, and N. pulchribarbara. The latter two are relatively rare, and distinguished by their secondary metabolites, sekikaic acid, and protocetraric acid, respectively, in contrast to salazinic acid in N. effusa.  In this region, Niebla species seem to grow more on soil than rock because of the strong coastal wind as evident by the wind-swept appearance of the vascular flora.  The terricolous lichen community is in further contrast to the rock dwellers of the California chaparral and to the boulder and pebble Niebla communities further south, and to the sporadic occurrences of sand Niebla species found along bays, near beaches and on mesas.

     Although Niebla effusa often occurs with  N. arenaria, it extends further inland in contrast to N. arenaria often found more along beaches. Another salazinic acid species, Niebla josecuervoi grows more on rocks than on soil. 

      Niebla effusa may prove to be the largest lichen on the planet in terms of weight and size.  Not only can it spread on the ground more than 1 m in diameter but it may weigh more than 1 kg. An example of its size is shown in Spjut (1996, Plate 4C).  Species of Usnea, and other pendant lichens that may drape more than 1 m from tree branches do not produce the weight found in species of Niebla.  This judgment is based on collecting samples of numerous species across the U.S., and Baja California for antitumor and anti-HIV screening. Niebla effusa attains its large size by its basal branches not always being confined to a holdfast; they also creep along the surface rather than grow upright.  

     Niebla effusa is not a tumble (“vagrant”) lichen—one that moves about as result of being taken up by the wind—as implied by Bowler and Marsh (2004), in contrast to N. arenaria and N. limicola that often grow loosely on sand near beaches where there is less vegetation and where they can be more easily dislodged by wind. Occasional saxicolous variants of N. effusa are recognized to arise from a holdfast, or develop on rock as shown above; however, they may later spread beyond the rock (also evident in the same photo); these seem to occur more in the southern part of the range in Baja California.  

     DNA phylogeny did not separate phenotypic N. effusa from other related species; yet, five specimens identified by this name represented three species according to  discrimination by BPP, in contrast to four species for five specimens of N. josecuervoi (Spjut et al. 2020). A total of nine species were discriminated by BPP for 30 specimens with depsidone chemotypes.  Although the depsidone species can be discriminated by statistical analyses of DNA sequences, defining them by their morphology is problematic because they are not clearly separated in the phylogeny except for three as related to their occurrence at the type locality, or nearby; these are the N. spatulata species complex, N. limicola, and N. flabellata.  Other depsidone species sampled near their type locality besides N. effusa are N. josecuervoi, and N. marinii

     Niebla effusa appears to hybridize frequently with N. palmeri and N. juncosa. Their phylogeny may appear in any of the three chemotype clades.  Niebla pulchribarbara is also suggested because protocetraric acid is relatively rare, the chemotype for the species.



For more discussion and reference materials see Introduction to Niebla