When on the moor, every now and again you can look down at your feet and see a cluster of small, red, delicate dots. A closer examination will reveal that they all belong to a growing colony of lichen called Cladonia Coccifera or more commonly known as Cup Lichen or Pixie Cups. However, on the moor they are also called Dartmoor Matchsticks, presumably because of their similarity to the well-known red matches. As the first match or ‘Lucifer’ was not invented until the 1830’s it could be assumed that this was a relatively modern name and so previously the more commoner ‘Pixie Cup’ used. Which coming from a land that used to be highly populated with piskies should come as no surprise. It may well be that once the piskies had left the moors the folk had to find a new name and so they chose Dartmoor Matchsticks. Either way I think there is nothing more delightful than to see a granite rock covered with these fragile little stalks, their crimson red co-ordinating so well with the grey of the stone and the green of the other lichens growing on the hard surface.
There is a tradition that the Pixie Cups were used by the little folk as drinking goblets from which at their moonlight gatherings they would drink sweet heather nectar. An old tale relates the story of an old moorman who was walking home one moonlit night when he stumbled across a tiny figure curled up on a low heather bush. He quietly top-toed across and saw that it was a piskie who for some reason had fallen asleep. The moorman also noticed that a small leather purse hung from the piskies belt and it appeared to be stuffed full of something. Now everyone knows that the piskies were masters at gold mining and the old boy was no exception. He silently drew his pocket knife and cut away the small pouch, the little piskie was still snoring contentedly on its sweet smelling heather mattress. When he was at a safe difference he peered into the purse and by the light of the creamy moon he could see it was full of tiny nuggets of gold. Suddenly he could hear the distant sound of angry chirping and chattering, the piskie must have awoke and found that somebody had stolen his gold. The moorman turned homeward and stole away as quickly as his ancient legs would carry him. After about a mile he suddenly felt tired, his head became light and his eyelids heavy, the moonlight washed sky seemed to push him down onto a tussocky rock where he fell into a deep slumber. In the morning he awoke dew soaked and stiff, his mind was all of a bubble but slowly he remembered the piskies purse. Frantically he searched his pockets and finally deep down in his poachers pouch he felt the smooth leather purse. A smile spread across the ancient furrows of his face, but something was amiss, although the purse felt full it seemed to be very light. He drew it out and peered inside, this time there were no golden sparkles but instead he could see hundreds of tiny dusty stalks all capped with crimson red crowns. In disgust the old fellow slung the purse onto the rock, the minute it hit the granite its contents spewed all over coating the boulder with tiny red cup-like stalks. In the distance he could hear the faint sounds of chuckling and chortling and at once he knew he had fallen victim to the piskie’s revenge. That, the old tales tell is how the Pixie Cups came to Dartmoor.
Dartmoor Matchsticks, Pixie Cups, or Cup Lichen