I drive to work past this old tree every day but have never noticed it until recently, when a sunbeam decided that I should pay more attention to it. Now I see it every morning and probably will for a long time to come. I had to stop and take its photo so it would forgive me for ignoring it for so long. It was most likely mighty in its day but it’s very old now and its time as a tree might be just about over.
American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) is a relatively short lived tree when compared to the tree in the previous photo. They only live for 50-70 years in ideal conditions, but in the wild most die after 30-40 years. Though mountain ash is native here I’ve never seen one in a forest. They like a climate that is cool and humid and that’s why they’re seen more in the northern part of the state up in the White Mountains, often in the 2,300-3,300 foot elevation range. The orange red berries and large white flower heads have made it a favorite among gardeners and it was first cultivated in 1811. As this photo of the fruit shows, the trees are having a good year. I’ve read that the berries are low in fat and very acidic, so they’re one of the last foods that wildlife will choose. Ruffed grouse, robins, thrushes, cedar waxwings, blue jays, squirrels, chipmunks and mice eat them, and moose will eat the leaves, twigs, and bark. Mountain ash bark was once used in a medicine to combat malaria because it resembles the quinine tree. Whether or not it worked I don’t know.
The berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) are called doll’s eyes, for obvious reasons. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and so are the pink stalks (pedicels) that they’re on. White baneberry plants are extremely toxic and no part of them should be eaten.
At first I thought these were spiny puffballs but after seeing them a week later I knew that I’d have to do some research. They turned out to be what I think are scaly pholiota (Pholiota squarrosa) mushrooms in the immature button stages of growth. It is also called shaggy scaly cap. It’s a parasitic mushroom that can infect and kill live trees but luckily I found them growing on an old beech blowdown.
And here are the scaly pholiota mushrooms a week later looking like honey mushrooms, which are edible. But this one is not edible and is considered poisonous, so that’s why I don’t collect and eat wild mushrooms. I know that a lot of people do, but I don’t have a microscope and probably wouldn’t know what I was looking at if I did, so I don’t feel comfortable eating them. I didn’t notice an odor but it’s described as being like garlic, lemon, radish, onion, or skunk, depending on who is doing the sniffing I suppose. They are said to taste like radishes by those unfortunate enough to have tasted them.
This is another mushroom I thought looked a bit like a honey mushroom from a distance but I think that it might be a gilled bolete (Phylloporus rhodoxanthus.) These grew in large clusters at the base of an oak and most likely signal its doom. I wish I had gotten a shot of its gills, which are golden yellow when young. The cap, as seen in the above photo, often cracks with age. This mushroom was big, with a cap about 8-9 inches across. It looked like a soufflé that had just come out of the oven.
Though I’ve been seeing more mushrooms I’m seeing very few coral fungi, and they should be everywhere right now. I found what I think is this clustered coral (Ramaria botrytis) growing under some pines recently.
Many mushrooms will stain a certain color when they’re bruised and red boletes with yellow stems stain blue, some almost instantly. You can see blue in the scratches on the cap in this example, but unfortunately that doesn’t help much with identification because there are at least 5 different boletes with red caps and yellow stems that stain blue. A bolete usually (but not always) has pores instead of gills on the underside of the cap. The gilled bolete we saw previously shows how confusing mushroom identification can be.
I’m not even going to guess which bolete this and the previous younger example were, but they grew to a large size. That’s a nickel in the center of this one. A nickel is 3/4 (.75) inches in diameter, so I’m guessing that this bolete was about 6-7 inches across. It’s a pretty mushroom, I thought. It reminded me of a freshly baked pie.
Here’s a mushroom that has never appeared on this blog. It’s called the shelving tooth fungus (Climacodon septentrionale.) Though the shelving part of the name is obvious the tooth part wasn’t, so I had to go back and have another look when I was trying to identify it. It’s quite big but from a distance as in this shot the teeth are hardly visible.
But up close it’s apparent that this mushroom has many thousands of very tiny teeth, there so it can increase its spore bearing surface. This mushroom is a parasite on live hardwood trees, primarily maples and, according to mycologist Tom Volk, especially sugar maples. It causes heart rot in the tree and weakens it enough so strong winds can snap the trunk. As it turns out I was lucky to find this example growing just above eye level, because they usually grow quite high in the tree.
This cute little bolete had been partially eaten by slugs but I thought it was still very photogenic. When I used to draw mushrooms its shape was always the picture I had in my mind. We’ve most likely all seen the shape a hundred times; usually colored red with white spots, and sometimes with an elf or fairy sitting on or under the cap. I haven’t been able to identify it but it resembles the devil’s bolete (Boletus satanas,) enough to tell me that I won’t be eating one.
Yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia) gets its common name from the yellow bits of the universal veil on its orange cap. The universal veil is made of tissue and completely covers the young mushroom. As the mushroom grows it eventually breaks through the membranous veil and pieces of it are left behind on the cap. Rain can wash them off, but since we’ve had so little rain the patches have stayed in place on this example. This mushroom is in the amanita family and is considered toxic. The amanita family contains some very dangerous mushrooms, so we should never eat any mushroom that we aren’t 100% sure is safe.
Young purple cort mushrooms (Cortinarius iodeoides) are very purple but lighten as they age. Squirrels and chipmunks won’t touch this one, possibly because it’s covered with a very bitter slime. This slime often makes the young examples look wet but this one looked quite dry. Slugs don’t have a problem eating it though, and I often see white trails on the caps where they have eaten through the purple coating to the white flesh below. Purple corts often develop white or yellow streaks as they age and this helps in identifying them.
I’m not sure what this caterpillar’s name is but I was sure that I wasn’t going to touch it because I’ve heard that sometimes these hairy caterpillars can give people quite a rash. This one was spiky all over.
I’ve seen just a handful of snakes this year but the other day this garter snake was sitting in the middle of a dirt road and just stayed right there while I took some photos. We’re having a toad population explosion so he will eat well, I’m sure.
At a certain time of day, in the early evening, the cottontail rabbits come out to eat and play along the banks of the Ashuelot River. I try not to bother them but I wasn’t thinking about rabbits as I walked noisily into their area and saw this one. He immediately froze as soon as he saw me. Rabbits do that; they freeze for a minute or two and then they run away, but not this one. Once he relaxed he just went back to eating as if I wasn’t even there.
And then his friend came hopping out of the bushes to join him. What was odd was how close they let me get to them. I walked slowly toward them as they looked right at me but they didn’t run away. Then when I stopped they just went back to eating as if they had no fear at all. I’ve never seen a rabbit act like that. Not since a porcupine crossed a field and sat beside me in Walpole last year have I been so close to an animal.
This one wanted to make sure that we all knew that he was indeed a cottontail.
Getting caught up in the rabbit patch almost made me forget what I was doing at the river in the first place, which was seeing if the cedar waxwings were there yet. They were, and in great numbers. They come each year at this time when the silky dogwood berries ripen. They love the berries and will do just about anything to get them. One year I found myself between a bird and its silky dogwood bush and it kept flying right at my face; pulling up only at the last minute. It took me a minute to understand what he was trying to tell me but once I turned and saw the silky dogwood berries I knew what he wanted, so I beat it out of there and let him eat in peace. Cedar waxwings are beautiful sleek birds that travel in large flocks, at least at this time of year.
Silky dogwood berries (Cornus amomum) go from green to white and then from white to blue, but for a short time they are blue and white like Chinese porcelain. In fact I’ve always wondered if the original idea for blue designs on white porcelain didn’t come from berries just like these. Once they are blue and fully ripe the cedar waxwings eat them up quickly.
How quick and rushing life can sometimes seem, when at the same time it’s so slow and sweet and everlasting. ~Graham Swift
Thanks for coming by.