Alectoria sarmentosa is commonly called Witch‘s Hair in reference to the light green, pendant, fruticose thallus light that hangs 40 to 80cm from branches of trees. The main branches of the thallus are round in cross-section but can be slightly angled to flattened with raised, elongated, whitish, pseudocyphellae approximately 1mm long. The sexual reproductive structures, apothecia, are disk shaped and tan to black in color. The medulla of the thallus is loose and cottony.
A. sarmentosa typically uses bark and wood as substrate, rarely using rock or the moss over rock in low to mid elevation conifer forests, often associated with older forests. As the eastern boundary is approached, the occurences of A. sarmentosa is increasingly restricted to old growth forests.
The geographic distribution of A. sarmentosa has a northern bound in Alaska and Alberta, Canada stretching south to Montana and to California on the coast, though not found on the immediate coast.
The species A. vancouverensis is nearly identical to A. sarmentosa but a chemical test with bleach and the range will distinguish the two. In coastal states and provinces, a rare sorediate form of A. sarmentosa is found.
In the winter, when other food sources are scarce, A. sarmentosa is an important food for black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus ssp. columbianus). In British Columbia, scientists have studied to possibility of renitroducing the species once the timber has been harvested in order to improve the secondary growth forests for deer inhabitation.
A. sarmentosa was important to the Bella Coola peoples of coastal British Columbia and was used as synthetica hair for ceremonial masks. It was similarly important to the Nitihaht peoples who used the species for bandages and diapers.
Brodo, I.M., S.D. Sharnoff and S. Sharnoff (2001) Lichens of North America. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.
McCune, B. and L. Geiser (2009) Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, Oregon.