Himantormia lugubris is an Antarctic endemic with a distribution restricted to the northwest tip of Antarctic Peninsula, adjacent islands and South Georgia Island. In this region H. lugubris is an important component of the epilithic lichen community. The species has a fruticose thallus with usually simple and flattened branches whose grey surface is often disrupted exposing the black and dominant chondroid axis. Because the photobiont cells are mainly restricted to the patchy grey areas, positive carbon balance seems to be rather difficult for this species. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to elucidate which functional strategy, possibly linked with thallus anatomy, is used by H. lugubris that enables it to be a successful species in the maritime Antarctic. To achieve this goal, we constructed a picture of the lichen’s physiological, anatomical and morphological characteristics by using a broad range of technologies, such as chlorophyll fluorescence, CO2 exchange and electron microscopy. We found that H. lugubris has a very low net photosynthesis, apparently restricted to the grey areas, but high respiratory rates. Therefore, positive net photosynthesis is only possible at low temperatures. Chlorophyll content is also low but is present in both gray and black areas. Our conclusion is that the only possibility for this species to achieve a positive carbon balance is to be active for long periods under optimal conditions, that means, wet, cold and with enough light, a common combination in this region of Antarctica. Given these constrains, we suggest that H. lugubris is likely to be especially sensitive species to predicted climate warming in the maritime Antarctic.