Lichens are composite organisms consisting of a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a photosynthetic partner, usually either a green alga or cyanobacterium. The morphology, physiology and biochemistry of lichens are very different from those of the isolated fungus and alga in culture.
Lichens occur in some of the most extreme environments on Earth—arctic tundra, hot deserts, rocky coasts, and toxic slag heaps. However, they are also abundant as epiphytes on leaves and branches in rain forests and temperate woodland, on bare rock, including walls and gravestones, and on exposed soil surfaces.
Lichens are widespread and may be long-lived. However, many are also vulnerable to environmental disturbance, and may be useful to scientists in assessing the effects of air pollution, ozone depletion, and metal contamination. Lichens have also been used in making dyes and perfumes, as well as in traditional medicines.