The Lichenologist

Research Article

Copper localization, elemental content, and thallus colour in the copper hyperaccumulator lichen Lecanora sierrae from California


a1 Departments of Botany and Mineralogy, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Rd, London SW7 5BD, UK. Email:

a2 U. S. Geological Survey, National Wildlife Health Center, 6006, Schroeder Rd, Madison WI 53711 USA.


An unusual dark blue-green lichen, Lecanora sierrae, was discovered over 30 years ago by Czehura near copper mines in the Lights Creek District, Plumas County, Northern California. Using atomic absorption spectroscopy, Czehura found that dark green lichen samples from Warren Canyon contained 4% Cu in ash and suggested that its colour was due to copper accumulation in the cortex. The present study addressed the hypothesis that the green colour in similar material we sampled from Warren Canyon in 2008, is caused by copper localization in the thallus. Optical microscopy and electron microprobe analysis of specimens of L. sierrae confirmed that copper localization took place in the cortex. Elemental analyses of L. sierrae and three other species from the same localities showed high enrichments of copper and selenium, suggesting that copper selenates or selenites might occur in these lichens and be responsible for the unusual colour.

(Accepted November 01 2010)