SANTA BARBARA – It was around the middle of July that Nancy Steffans of Santa Barbara Boulder Wardens first noticed something strange. Some of the previously nondescript boulders in Santa Barbara’s aptly named Rocky Nook Park were now clad in the vibrant regalia of a Vegas front-room performer. “I was afraid of what it could mean. At the same time, as a trained Boulder Warden I knew it could only mean one thing.” She is referring of course to Liberace Lichen; an opportunistic boulder-swarming scourge familiar to the park rangers of Las Vegas.
Jerry Dunbar, Chief Lichen Scientist with Santa Barbara Parks and Rec, explains that the tenacious and flamboyant fungus will be difficult if not impossible to stop. “Liberace Lichen is so named because it behaves like its namesake,” Dunbar explains. He is referring to Wladziu Liberace, the mononymous grand pianist whose lavish costumes and trademark candelabra made the pianist/entertainer a popular fixture in Las Vegas for decades. Dunbar continues.
“The showy lichen ingratiates itself to the rock surface in a geo-floral process called ‘surface showmanship’. The extant floral life on the surface of the affected rock would ordinarily assume a chemical defense posture and throw off the invading species. Unfortunately,” the scientist continues, “the evolutionary brilliance of the Liberace Lichen is that it swirls madly into the target ecosystem like a grinning, sequined dervish, stunning the bedazzled host environment and quickly establishing a foothold on the mineral surfaces. Soon the affected boulders are swarmed with spangles and chartreuse, or what have you.”
As the interview ended, the Santa Barbara Today Examiner! correspondent saw two squirrels in gold-lamé capes scamper by. Dunbar didn’t look. “It affects the animal life, too,” he said wearily. “This is going to be a difficult battle.”