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It is a foliose, or leafy, lichen. It has wide distribution, and many common names such as common orange lichen, yellow scale, maritime sunburst lichen and shore lichen.
Xanthoria parietina is found in sunny, exposed places that are rich in nitrogen like sea cliffs where seabirds provide nitrogen or trees, rocks and manmade substrates wherever there is plenty of nitrogen. It is a widespread lichen, and has been reported from Australia, Africa, Asia, North America and throughout much of Europe. In eastern North America and Europe, it is found more frequently near coastal locations. The increases in NO3- deposition as a result of industrial and agricultural developments in southern Ontario, Canada in the 20th century are thought to be responsible for the reappearance of this species in the local lichen flora.