Gold-Eye Lichen

Gold-eye lichen (Teloschistes chrysopthalmus), surrounded by star rosette lichens on a tree
Scientific Name
Teloschistes chrysopthalmus
Teloschistaceae (a lichen family)

Gold-eye lichen typically grows on twigs and small branches in full sun. Its branching lobes all arise from a central point, giving it a tufted appearance. The branches are round in cross-section. The thallus (main body of the lichen) may be grayish green, but it may also be yellow, especially near the disk-shaped fruiting structures. These apothecia disks are bright orange or yellow, and they are usually surrounded by a thin rim the color of the thallus, often with bristles radiating outward from the rim like eyelashes.

This is a very attractive lichen, even though each tuft may only be about half an inch high.

Like other fruticose (shrubby) lichens, gold-eye lichen is three-dimensional instead of having flattened leafy or crusty forms. Other fruticose lichens may look quite different, but they all lack a distinctive top, middle, and lower layer, since they are like little shrubs or trees.

A lichen is an organism that results when a fungus species and an algae species join together. Although the relationship between the fungi and algae is quite intimate and integrated, the lichen that is formed does not much resemble either of the components. Learn more about lichens on their group page.

Similar species: Gold-eye lichen is really quite unique. Counting the color, growth form, habitat, and size, there are no close lookalikes in Missouri.

  • Beard lichens (Usnea spp.) also grow in tufts on tree branches, and they, too, have branches that are round in cross-section, but they are grayish green and not yellow or yellowish. Their disk-shaped fruiting structures are about the same color as the gray-green thallus (not bright orange).
  • Two species of twig lichens, or strap lichens (Ramalina spp.), are recorded for Missouri. At a glance, these look more like beard lichens than they do golden-eye, since they grow in shrubby gray-green tufts. Unlike beard lichens and golden eye, however, ramalinas have flattened, straplike branches.
Other Common Names
Golden-Eye Lichen

Height: to about 1 inch, maximum. Most tufts are only about ½ inch high and wide. They rarely grow in clusters or colonies.

Where To Find


This species is usually only found on twigs and small branches of trees, though you may also find it on trunks. It prefers sunny, open habitats. Usually, you will find only a single cluster at a time. It often occurs alongside other types of lichens on branches. Because it is found mostly in open, sunny habitats, it can be rare in regions dominated by forested habitat.

If you are wanting to see this species, make sure you inspect recently fallen branches in the woods; it's easier than climbing a tree! Also, look for it on small trees in cemeteries.

This is one of the many fruticose lichens that are sensitive to air pollution. Fruticose lichens are some of the first to disappear when a natural habitat is disrupted.

Common but frequently overlooked due to its small size.

This is one of our prettiest lichens, but since each tuft is usually only about a half inch wide, you will have to look carefully to find this species. Fortunately, lichen hunting is a fun thing to do! Look on the branches of smallish trees near open areas, including the edges of fields and even in cemeteries. Also look for it on lichen-covered branches that have fallen to the ground. Use a hand lens, or use your camera to take a closeup, then zoom in on the image.

Because lichens, with their soft, absorbent tissues, are extremely sensitive to air pollution, they are good indicators of air quality. Scientists use them as sentinels of environmental health.

The species name, chrysopthalmus, means "golden-eye."

Lisa Potter Thomas and James R. Jackson, authors of a 1985 field guide to Missouri's mosses, liverworts, and lichens, described this colorful species as resembling “a clown’s bouquet of orange lollipops.”

Some species of flying squirrels build nests out of fruticose lichens. Several types of birds use pieces of lichens to camouflage the outsides of their nests. We’d love to see a photo of a bright yellow gold-eye lichen included among the greenish lichens stuck to a hummingbird nest.

Gold-eye lichen often grows amid star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris), which is another common, small lichen that usually grows on tree branches. Because star rosette lichen is a foliose lichen and grows rather flat against the bark, the fruticose gold-eye lichen rises above it, like a shrub rises above patio pavers.

Because many lichens provide cover for several types of insects, insect-eating animals often focus their hunting on lichen-covered places on trim limbs and trunks. Birds that forage for insects among lichens include nuthatches, the brown creeper, chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, and numerous vireos and warblers. Other animals that look for insect prey among lichens include several types of spiders and the larvae of green lacewings.

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Similar Species
About Mosses, Liverworts, and Lichens in Missouri

Mosses, liverworts, hornworts, and lichens seem rather similar, but these organisms are in very different groups. Mosses, liverworts, and hornworts are small, low plants usually found in damp habitats. Unlike more familiar plants, they lack veinlike structures and do not produce flowers or seeds — instead, they produce spores. Meanwhile, lichens are not plants at all: they are a collection of different fungi that have photosynthetic algae living within their tissues.

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