Crotal – lichen

A recent twitter exchange has prompted me to stick my nose back into my resources on lichen. Hardly the most exciting subject for many, perhaps, but I’m quite fond of it myself. It’s another area of natural history where the Gaelic names are both interesting and illustrative. Visitors to the west coast of Scotland, or any of the Hebrides, will be familiar with stretches of yellow lichen over the shoreline; striking against the pink and grey of Lewisian Gneiss. This lichen, Xanthoria parietina, often gets referred to as ‘crotal’ (pron. craw-tahl). Crotal is actually the catch-all term for lichen in Gaelic, but I suppose the ubiquity of X. parietina has led it become known as crotal alone, rather than by it’s actual Gaelic name, rùsg-buidhe nan creag. Okay, it’s a bit of a mouthful… Give it a try: roosk boo-yih nan krek. The literal translation is ‘the yellow bark/crust of the stone’; quite fitting, really.

There’s plenty other good lichen names too:

Feusag-liath (Usnea barbata)
fee-us-ak lee-ah  literally meaning ‘grey beard’ (worth noting that liath can also refer to a light blue-grey colour)

Feusag nan creag (Ramalina siliquosa)
fee-us-ag nan krek literally meaning ‘the stone’s beard’

Feusag a’ ghobhair (Usnea sp.)
fee-us-ak a gh-oh-ur  literally meaning ‘the goat’s beard’

Crotal ruadh na mara (Caloplaca verruculifera)
craw-tahl roo-adh na mara literally meaning ‘the red lichen of the sea’

The sounds that ‘gh’ and ‘dh’ create in Gaelic have no equivalent in English, so can sometimes be a bit tricky to pronounce. For an example of how they sound, see here and here.

One last name I’ve come across but can’t find the latin name for is fuil nan sluagh (fool nan sloo-agh). Here’s the dictionary entry about it:

fuil nan sluagh

(AC) sf (lit. the blood of the hosts — fairies) Red crotal of the rocks melted by frost. In Argyllshire, the saying when one sees red crotal is, thug na daoine beaga cath an-raoir, the little men (fairies) fought a battle last night

SNH have got an interesting publication on lichens, available in English and Gaelic here.


4 thoughts on “Crotal – lichen

  1. Lovely little blog as usual!!! Very interesting too and the pictures are excellent.


  2. Love lichens, and your photos are fab but neither of them are showing crotal, the type of lichen used to dye wool. I collect it when it flakes off stones and fence stobs and dry it then dye skeins of yarn with it.

    • Hi Susan, thanks for your comment. The word ‘crotal’ has come to mean a specific type of lichen among many people (particularly that which is found on gneiss). In Gaelic however, and the manner in which I use it, it simply means ‘lichen’. That is, referring collectively to the many different kinds of lichen found.

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