Oprah’s sunshine lichen growing on tree bark. Photo: Jordan Hoffman
Jessica Allen, a professor at Eastern Washington University and her colleague, James Lendemer, from The New York Botanical Garden have named a newly discovered species in honor of Oprah Winfrey, the noted media mogul and philanthropist. Hypotrachyan oprah, commonly known as Oprah’s sunshine lichen, is found only in the southeastern United States, including near Ms. Winfrey’s hometown, Koscuisko, Mississippi. This is the first species to be named form Ms. Winfrey.
The new species is a lichen, a symbiotic organism formed by close cooperation between a fungus and an alga. Lichens grow on every continent across the globe where they help form soil, and serve as food and shelter for diverse animals. Large-scale air quality monitoring often relies on studying what lichens occur in an area as they are highly sensitive to air pollution.
Scientists know when they have found a new species because it doesn’t fit in the sets of characteristics that define any other species. In the case of Oprah’s sunshine lichen, the scientists knew it was unique based on its bright yellow glow when viewed under ultra-violet light along with is observable features.
The newly described species was published in the Castanea, the journal of the Southern Appalachian Botanical Society and is available through subscription online, or by request from the authors.