This is another one of those posts full of unusual things that I see in the woods that don’t seem to fit in other posts.
These amber jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) were frozen solid and looked like lollipops, or maybe half lollipops. This fungus is called willow brain because it is often found growing on willows. It produces spores on its upper surface, which is smooth and shiny, and the underside has more of a matte finish. Winter is a great time to find jelly fungi of many kinds, but you have to look closely. Those in the photo were no bigger than a dime-roughly 18mm.
Split gill fungi (Schizophyllum commune) are probably the easiest winter fungi to identify because of their wooly winter coats. These mushrooms grow year round on dead limbs but for some reason, I only notice them in winter. That could be because they are very small-no larger than a penny at best-roughly 19mm. They’re also very tough and leathery. They grow on every continent except Antarctica and because of that are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. Scientists have recently isolated a compound from them that has been shown to inhibit the HIV-1 virus.
The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds on its under surface that split lengthwise when it dries out. This example was very dry. The splits close over the fertile surfaces as the mushroom shrivels in dry weather. When rehydrated by rain the splits reopen, the spore-producing surfaces are exposed to the air, and spores are released.
Beech trees have their long, pointed buds all ready for spring. When these begin to break and unfurl they are one of the most beautiful sights in the forest, in my opinion. The fuzzy, silvery new leaf looks like an angel wing, but just for a very short time.
I can’t even guess what caused this zig-zag pattern in this tree bark. My first thought was lightning, but that would run from the top down. This scar comes out of the soil and runs about 3 feet up the trunk.
White cheese polypore (Tyromyces chioneus) is, according to the website Mushroom Expert.com, just about the most boring mushroom going. But it is a “winter mushroom” and that, in my opinion, makes it at least a little interesting. It grows on hardwood logs and causes white rot, and gets its common name from its scientific one. Tyromyces means “with a cheesy consistency,” and chioneus means “snow white.” These mushrooms are big enough to be seen from a distance and when they are fresh they have a pleasing fragrance that some think is like cheesecake.
This mushroom was frozen solid but had still held on to its colors, which reminded me of fall.
Instead of being caused by an insect like many galls, alder (Alnus glutinosa) tongue gall is caused by a fungus (Taphrina alni). The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the female cone-like catkins (strobiles) and causes long, tongue shaped galls known as languets to grow from them. These galls seem to like high humidity so are usually found on alders that grow near ponds and streams.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many orange jelly fungi (Dacrymyces palmatus) growing in one place before. They were on a hemlock stump no bigger than the average doughnut. Most of the orange ones that I see are growing on hemlock.
These orange jelly fungi (Dacrymyces palmatus) grew inside a hollow log. Walking slowly and looking into hollow logs is a great way to find unexpected things but I only stick my hands in them after I’ve had a look first, because I’ve also seen sharp toothed chipmunks in them.
Black jelly fungi (Exidia glandulosa) often decorate alder bark in this area. These were a bit shriveled because of the cold and the lack of rain, but once we see some rain they will swell up and look like puffed up pillows. It’s amazing how much jelly fungi can swell up after a rain.
Last year the witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) along the river were still blooming on January 21st, but not this year. All that is left are the cup shaped bracts which the strap shaped yellow petals unfurl from. I think 10 below zero in early December was too cold too soon and “switched them off” for this winter. Normally they won’t bloom much past Thanksgiving, so the last two or three years of seeing them bloom later and later have been unusual.
If you glanced at a maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina) shrub in spring or early summer you might think it was a blueberry, because its flowers resemble blueberry flowers. Both shrubs are in the blueberry family and maleberry is sometimes called male blueberry. You would be waiting a long time to find anything blue on this bush though-its fruit is a hard capsule full of seeds. The 5 part capsules make this an easy shrub to identify in winter. I just look for the star on the end of the capsules. I find them on the banks of ponds, growing next to alders.
Commonly we stride through the out-of-doors too swiftly to see more than the most obvious and prominent things. For observing nature, the best pace is a snail’s pace. ~Edward Way Teale
Thanks for coming by.