Older fruit trees and those neglected for some years are more likely to host lichen, moss or algae. While these organisms may appear harmful, they are not; they parasitic in any way. The tree simply offers the organisms the right environment for development. If you don't like the way they look, improving air circulation and sunlight penetration creates less favourable conditions for them.
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Lichens are impressive organisms. They are capable of growing on surfaces such as rocks, animal bones and dead trees. Persistent and consistent lichen growth eventually creates soil and an environment favourable to tree and plant growth, according to the Washington State University Extension. Lichens are composed of a fungus and an alga, and each does its own job for the support of the organism. The fungus obtains minerals and water and the alga provides carbohydrates and vitamins, according to the University of Minnesota Extension. Lichen is often mistaken for a fungal disease because it assumes some strange-looking shapes, but it is completely harmless. At the worst, it should alert you to the fact that your tree is lacking vigour and hasn't been tended in a while.
Mosses and Algae
Mosses are more familiar. They are softer in appearance and have the look of greenish tufts. Algae are also usually green and powdery, although there is one type, Trentepohlia, that is orange, according to the Royal Horticultural Society. Lichens differ from both of these in their crusty appearance. Whichever growth you think you're dealing with, all are harmless.
Damp places with minimal sunlight often favour these organisms, but lichens are capable of growing where no food or nutrients exist, according to the Royal Horticultural Society. Particularly on trees, these organisms are common when the crown hasn't been pruned in years and is overgrown, blocking out sunlight and making the air denser.
If don't want these on your tree, open the canopy and let in light. Start a watering regimen, remove the weeds, prune broken and dead branches and mulch the area to conserve moisture at the roots. The Royal Horticultural Society recommends a foliar fertiliser application to perk up the tree.
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