Is It Safe To Burn Wood With Lichen On It?

After cutting down a large oak tree in my backyard I ran into an unfamiliar problem. The entire tree was covered with lichen and moss. I had no idea if it would be safe to burn the wood so I decided to call a local arborist to find out. Here’s what he said when I asked the question, Is it safe to burn wood with lichen and moss?

Lichen is safe to burn, but you need to give the wood time to season and dry out. Lichen will only grow and survive on wet trees so if it’s alive that tells you the wood is wet and not fully seasoned. Burning it will result in a smoky mess that’s annoying around a campfire and terrible inside. Lichen also has a distinct smell when it’s burned that some people hate, so keep that in mind.

So we’ve came to the conclusion that lichen is safe to burn, but you need to dry it out. Continue reading to find out how I dry my wood to kill lichen.

Can Lichen Be Burned?

Yes lichen can definitely be burned, but you want to make sure it’s dried out first. It’s always a good idea to allow firewood to dry and season anyway so that’s not a big deal. After cutting, splitting, and stacking your firewood it will take about 6 months for the lichen to die and the wood to dry out.

Just make sure the woods up off the ground and properly covered so it dries out in a reasonable amount of time. I’ll go over my drying and seasoning method further on.

After drying out for 6 months the lichen will be dead and it can be burned like any other piece of firewood. Burning live lichen will result in a smelly, smoky mess so it’s worth going through the seasoning process.

What Is Lichen?

Not many people know what lichens are! They’re a really bizarre hybrid and no 2 lichen organisms are alike. It’s like lichen is a completely different species from an alien planet. I think it has a natural beauty that’s hard to describe.

Lichen is a complex lifeform that’s living in a symbiotic partnership between fungus and algae. It’s basically a mixture of the two different organisms with the fungus giving lichens most of its characteristics. The algae is what gives the lichen a green or blue/green appearance.

Let me clear up a common misconception. Lichen and moss are completely different organisms. Moss is a standard plant, while lichen is something else entirely. They don’t have roots, stems or leaves and the chloroplasts are only on the top surface of the lichen.

They might be completely different, but you will almost always see moss and lichen in the same picture. Lichens latch onto moss to drain their stored water and prolong the growth cycle. Without moss storing the water a lichen will dry up and die. That’s why drying out your wood will quickly kill off any lichen that’s living on the surface.

Seasoning and Drying Wood To Kill Lichen

The seasoning process is used to dry out firewood to improve the quality of your burn. Dry wood is easier to light, burns cleanly, consistently, and produces much less smoke. It depends on when you split the wood, but it will take 6-12 months to dry out firewood. You need a few months of the summer sun working its magic.

Drying the wood will remove the lichens water source so it will quickly die. It will still be on the surface, but you won’t have to deal with smoke and the smell it gives off. How do you season firewood?

  • Get Firewood Off The Ground: Getting your firewood up off the ground is by far the most important step. It significantly reduces the chance of rot and water damage at the bottom of your stack. I recommend building/buying a firewood rack or stacking the wood on pallets or pressure-treated 2x4s.
  • Cover Up The Top: Covering up your wood can be as simple as covering the top with a tarp. If you burn a lot of firewood it’s worth building a small wood shed or buying a commercial firewood rack. I really like the cheap firewood rack brackets they sell on Amazon. All you need is 5 minutes of your time and a few 2×4’s. Cover that up with a cover (my favorite) and you’re good to go.
  • Increase Airflow: Make sure you leave the sides exposed when covering up your wood. Tarps should only be draped over the top of the pile and tied down. A little bit of airflow will significantly speed up the drying process.
  • Improve Sunlight: Sunlight is the natural enemy of lichen and moisture.

Burning Lichen Can Be Smelly

There are a lot of people out there that can’t stand the smell of burning lichen. People seem to either love or hate the smell of burning lichen. It has a wooden, musky, yeasty scent that some people actually use in their incense containers.

I neither like nor hate the smell of burning lichen. Regular firewood smells better, but I don’t think it’s all that bad. My cousin on the other hand thinks it smells rancid and it upsets his stomach making him sick.

It’s like any other scent. Some people won’t like it no matter what. There are people in this world that hate the smell of fresh made cinnamon buns. Those people are crazy, but everybody’s sense of smell is different.

Lichen and Moss Produce A Lot of Smoke

Be careful when burning wood that’s covered in lichen and moss. The presence of lichen/moss guarantees that the wood isn’t fully seasoned. It will be hard to light, but that’s not the main problem.

Wet wood will be ridiculously smoky producing a cloud of black smoke. That’s not a big deal around the campfire, but it can cause a lot of damage in the house.