Niebla effusa

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

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
Niebla, Ramalina and Vermilacinia

Emmanuel Sérusiaux & Richard  Spjut
Baja California, Jan-Feb 2016

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


Bahía de San Quintín,
Laguna and peninsula.
On rocks near sea level

Spjut & Sérusiaux 17054
Jan 2016.



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 Quintin 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 fruticose lichen that is endemic to the peninsula of northern Baja California, occurring along the Pacific  Coast from near Punta Santo Domingo north to Colonet. The species is recognized by intricately interwoven  prismatic branches with linear and flattened parts at various intervals that are mostly conspicuously flattened, dilated and arched near apex into claw-like branchlets. The species  salazinic acid (without triterpenes), except possibly one specimen noted above with additional substances of possibly fumaroprotocetric acid and a depside.  This chemical variation, and its DNA, however, remain to be determined.  The chemical results suggest an extraction from intermixed branches of different species growing together. 

     Several other related salazinic acid species, which often occur with N. effusa, can be difficult to distinguish. The ultimate branchlets of Niebla effusa are generally shorter than those of Niebla josecuervoi, which generally differs in having comb-like branchlets more near base than apex. Also the branchlets of Niebla josecuervoi are generally longer and more erect, and frequently bear apothecia,  subterminal to terminal in position.  Niebla arenaria, which has similar cylindric-prismatic branches, differs by the terminal short bifurcate branchlets. Niebla flabellata, also with similar dilated branches, has a smaller and more brittle thallus due to a thinner cortex, and the dilated segments, which develop almost anywhere from base to near apex, appear more lacerated and incised along margins rather than branch-like,  or the whole thallus may be divided into entirely flattened branches shaped ±like tortilla chips.

     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. Young thalli of Niebla effusa can be seen initiating on bare ground between rocks, in contrast to related species arising from small stones in the same environment, especially N. podetiaforma.  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 whereas N. arenaria is often found more along beaches. Niebla josecuervoi, on the other hand, 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.