We’re having a relatively snowless season in my corner of New Hampshire so far, so I’ve been able to get out into the woods regularly. What follows is a sample of some of what I’ve seen.
These colorful turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) fungi caught my eye because they seem paler than most and looked a little pink to me. A touch of color blindness keeps me from declaring that they definitely are pink, though-maybe readers could help me with that? I keep hoping to see a blue one, but haven’t found one yet. Occasionally I’ll find a website that says turkey tails grow only on stumps and cut logs and not on live trees, but that simply isn’t true. Turkey tail fungi can get into the sapwood of living trees and will also grow in tree wounds and can kill the cambium layer between the bark and wood quickly. Turkey tail can also bleach out living wood by causing white rot. This can lead to a mottling and discoloration of the wood, which is called spalting. Also known as sap stained wood, spalted wood is highly prized by woodworkers and musical instrument makers because of the coloring and highly figured grain patterns.
It’s not hard to see how shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) got its name. The tree sheds the shaggy looking bark and some people collect it and then roast, boil, and make a syrup out of it that is in high demand at gourmet restaurants. The “hickory” part of the name is thought to be from the Algonquin “Pawcohiccora.” Shagbark hickory produces some of the best tasting nuts found in the forest but they are hard to get into. The small nuts have a tough outer husk and a very hard inner shell, but as the old saying goes; “the harder the nut, the sweeter the meat,” so it is worth the effort. Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, fox, bears, rabbits, turkeys, wood ducks, and other animals and birds love hickory nuts, so there is a lot of competition. Hickory wood is very hard and used for everything from barbequing to baseball bats. The bark becomes shaggy only on older trees, so young ones can be hard to identify.
Pear Shaped Puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme) dance around the wound on a birch log. The common name comes from these fungi resembling an upside down pear. In Greek Lyco means wolf and perdon means “to break wind,” so another common name for these mushrooms is the “wolf fart fungus.” (Apparently the person who named them had a strange sense of humor.) If you ever find yourself in the forest surrounded by kids, that fact might come in handy when trying to lift their spirits and get them giggling. But don’t let them inhale the spores-Tom Yolk of the biology department at the University of Wisconsin tells a story of these being sold as hallucinogenic mushrooms to a group of students. The students inhaled the spores and later ended up in emergency rooms because the spores germinated in their lungs and actually began to grow. They were treated with anti-fungal drugs and survived-with quite a story to tell.
We’ve had some cold temperatures but our lakes, ponds, and streams haven’t frozen over yet. As the picture shows, beavers are taking advantage of the open water. Since beavers don’t hibernate they stock up on twigs to get through them the winter, which is why they are always most active in the fall. The back of a beaver’s gnawing teeth are softer and wear faster than the front of the teeth, so their teeth sharpen themselves to a chisel edge as they use them. I didn’t see any beavers but I saw plenty of stumps.
I’m still wondering what this black fungus I found growing on a dead oak branch is. I think it might be Black Bulgar (Bulgaria inquinans.) Common names for Black Bulgar include gum mushrooms, jelly drops, rubber buttons, or pope’s buttons. In the photos I’ve seen they do indeed look like buttons when young, but as they age they look more like what is shown above and are described as “quite flabby and gelatinous.” I couldn’t tell what these normally felt like because it was cold and they were frozen solid. Black Bulgar is widely distributed in the U.S., Canada, and many other countries. Another likely candidate is black witch’s butter ( Exidia glandulosa.) If anyone has any idea what this might be, I’d be grateful if you let me know.