Using Lichen On Your Model Railway Layout

Bill Murphy
Written by Bill Murphy

You won’t be in this hobby for very long before you start hearing about Lichen, and how you can use it to make realistic trees, shrubs and undergrowth. It’s a real plant, a delicate, interlaced, mossy sort of plant that is really part algae and the other part fungus. You can find Lichen all over the world, but mainly in cooler, wooded climes.

If you can’t find your own Lichen naturally in the wild, you can buy it from hobby shops or online. Most model manufacturers carry many different textures and colors of the stuff, and you’ll not have a hard time finding it. You’ll mostly use Lichen as foliage or undergrowth, so green and various shades of it, will be your predominant color choices. If you’re trying to model something very specific, take care to at least model the color correctly.

You can dull the color of Lichen you purchase by washing it. It has most likely been spray painted, and the paint should at least fade for you, if not come right off. Toweling it with a damp paper towel can also reduce some of the brightness associated with a newly painted batch of Lichen that’s just too loud for your purposes. Lichen you collect from the wild must be dried before it’s painted, and you obviously have the most latitude here.

If you already have some on your layout and want to change the colors up a bit, then try spraying a little flat paint onto them, or dusting with colored chalks. Either way offers good results.

Be aware that Lichen you buy will contain a large amount of product you just don’t want to use on your layout. You can either designate these for weeds and brush use, and use the finer tips for your trees and shrubberies. For this reason you’ll want to either collect a lot of it or buy several bags at once, as you will need to go through these bags to find a good amount of Lichen to use on your model railroad layout. There are several good brands of Lichen available, and your only problems should be getting enough of the good pieces for your purposes.

The trees and bushes you create using Lichen are only limited by your imagination. Making bushes is by far the easier, and you can accomplish a large clump of bushes in no time at all. (leaving more time for the trees!) Bushes are not very often standing alone: they usually have friends. A cluster of bushes can be glued to your layout as simply as by dipping your Lichen bush into some Elmer’s Glue-All and affixing it to the spot you like to have it.

You’ll want to use only the finely tipped pieces, and arrange them in a natural fashion, that is, higher in the middle of the clump of bushes and lower around the edges. Of course try and have your colors right and varied before you go planting acres of bushes! Make sure you affix everything well to the layout itself, especially on slopes, as when trains start rumbling by loosely attached bushes will soon become tumbleweeds and tumble down where they’re not wanted!

To model trees effectively using Lichen you’ll need to first find a tree trunk. There are basically three choices here:

  1. First, either buy pre-made tree trunks from a model supply shop. (Usually available in many styles and variations)
  2. Secondly, you can make a wire tree trunk, which affords you with incredible flexibility and strength. You can model more branches and limbs with this method than any other.
  3. The third option is to head out to nature, and come back with just what you need from many different bushes and hedges. Be sure to dry them before use, and then paint them if necessary. The last two methods are by far the most time-consuming, though both are also cheaper, if that is a concern.

Once you’ve settled on your tree trunks and attached the limbs, it’s time to affix the Lichen to the branches. If your trees are set to be planted into the foreground of your layout, take some extra time with these, and use more clumps of Lichen and create a more detailed appearance as these will be your most visible creations. The trees in the far off reaches of your forest will be denser, and you may even get away with no trunks on these, as they won’t be visible anyway. For the volunteers in the front rows however, make them as real as you can. Clamp the tree and let the glue dry overnight before attempting to plant your trees on the layout.

Use ground foam and perhaps even some leftover Lichen scarps to make ground covers. To make special effects such as snow, you can use foam or commercial flocking. Be sure to apply an adhesive and spray it on your Lichen trees and bushes before applying the foam or flocking.

You can also choose to make your foreground trees out of other materials, and use Lichen exclusively for your denser, more distant forests. It’s up to you. You can make a fine Lichen forest for very little money, or you can spend the bucks and make your trees from kits, or even buy them ready to plant. But since we’re talking about MODEL railroading, here we’ve focused on modeling the trees.

When you get to where you’re modeling your distant trees, remember that denser is better. You can get away with affixing the Lichen to the tops of nail heads, (painted if they’re at all visible) and clumping them in various heights. Your colors are not as bright further out, so keep that in mind. Lichen is best suited for background trees in the distance, and you can make a large forest out of Lichen quickly and inexpensively.

Building your Lichen trees is a simple and easy modeling project to undertake. It won’t be long before your trains are running through a forest of your own making!

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