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Posts Tagged ‘Brittle Cinder Fungus’

Though almost all the leaves have fallen from the trees the various brambles have hung on to theirs as the usually do. This blackberry plant’s leaves were a pleasing reddish bronze / brown. Some brambles like dewberry turn a beautiful deep purple color and hold onto their leaves all winter but blackberries and raspberries will lose theirs.

When I first found this odd little thing I wasn’t even sure if it was a fungus or a lichen. It grew on soil (I thought) so I guessed right when I guessed fungus but I still had a hard time identifying it. It turned out to be the pinecone tooth (Auriscalpium vulgare,) which is a little mushroom that grows on pinecones. Since the pinecone this one grew on was buried in the soil, I thought it was growing in soil.

The underside of the cap on the pinecone tooth fungus is toothed, and that’s where that part of its common name comes from. The cap is about the size of an M&M candy (.53”) and is off center so in this view it looks heart shaped. On young examples the teeth are white. They darken to brown with age so this example was somewhere in between.

A good identifying feature of the pinecone tooth is its hairy cap and stem. I can’t think of another mushroom like it. This mushroom grows only on white pine (Pinus strobus) and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) cones.

Brittle cinder fungus (Kretzschmaria deusta) looks like a shiny lump of coal someone stuck to a tree. Though I’ve only seen this fungus on standing dead trees and logs it will attack live trees and is said to be aggressive. Once it gets into a wound on the tree’s roots or trunk it begins to break down the cellulose and lignin and causes soft rot. The tree is then doomed, though it may live on for a few to even several more years.

The shiny, hard outer coating on brittle cinder fungus is indeed brittle. I just touched this example with my finger and the hard outer shell fell off, exposing the spore mass within. These spores will ride the wind to other trees and if conditions are right, will infect them as well. It’s a silent unseen drama that goes on day after day, year after year.

It’s hard to believe that the brittle cinder fungus we saw in the two previous photos started life as a beautiful gray and white crust-like fungus in the spring, but that’s how they begin. You can see the lumpiness already starting in this example, which I found on a log on a rainy day in June of 2014.

I’m still seeing lots of colorful turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) These examples had a lot of orange in them.

For years I’ve tried to find an answer to why turkey tails have so many different colors. Is it the minerals in the soil? The type of wood they grow on? From what I’ve read, there is no answer to why this or any other mushroom displays the colors it does. It seems that they’re colorful simply to be beautiful, and that’s fine with me because I enjoy seeing them. They brighten a gray winter day.

The dry husks of American hazelnuts (Corylus americana) have a cavern in them where the nut was and this makes a good winter home for spiders and other insects. It’s hard to see but the opening of this one had spider webs across it, as many do. I like to see the colors and movement in these empty husks.

There were still hazel nuts in these husks. In 1995 a large shallow pit in Scotland was found to be full of the remains of thousands of burned hazelnut shells and was estimated to be 9,000 years old, so man has been eating this nut for a very long time. In this country Native Americans used them to flavor soups, and also ground them into flour, most likely for thousands of years as well.

A young maple was healing a long frost crack; at about 6 feet one of the longest I’ve seen.  On sunny winter days the sun warms the tree’s bark and the cells in the wood just under the bark expand. If the nighttime temperature falls into the bitterly cold range the bark can cool and contract rapidly, but when the wood beneath the bark doesn’t cool as quickly this stress on the bark can cause it to crack.  On cold winter nights you can often hear what sounds like rifle shots off in the woods, but the sounds are really those made by cracking trees. They can be quite loud and often echo through the forest.

One day I received an email from a man in Europe who asked me if I could look at a detail of a 15th century painting and tell him if I thought the mark on a tree trunk was a frost crack. He had seen frost crack examples on this blog and was curious to know if that was what the artist had painted. The first thing I had to know was if the temperature dropped below freezing in the region that the painting was supposed to represent and he said yes, it got cold there. I then looked at the detail of the painting closely and noticed that flowers grew on the side of the tree with the scar. This told me that since most flowers need sunshine the sun most likely shined on that side of the tree, so you had cold winter nights and sunshine on the tree’s bark during the day; the two things needed to produce a frost crack. I told the man that if I had to bet on it, I’d bet that the scar was indeed a healed frost crack. You can see it there just above the most vertical white flower. What you see here is just a very small detail of the painting, enlarged several times. It had roads and medieval peasant farmers and castles and all kinds of interesting things in it.

At this time of year when the sun is low in the sky it makes things glow, like it did to these virgin’s bower seed heads (Clematis virginiana) one recent sunny day.

The seed head was in silhouette in the midst of shining, feathery sunshine.

Virgin’s bower seeds (achenes) are also hairy with a long hairy tail called a style. This native clematis has panicles of small white flowers in the fall. The foliage is toxic so it isn’t eaten by animals, but early settlers used parts of the vines as a pepper substitute. Native Americans used it to treat migraine headaches and nervous disorders, and herbalists still use it to treat those same illnesses today.

Staghorn sumac stems (Rhus typhina) also glowed in the sunshine, and so did the buds. These buds are naked with no bud scales, so it is up to the hairs to protect them from the cold. Grinding the berries of staghorn sumac produces a purple colored, lemon flavored spice that is very popular in some countries. Another name for this native shrub is not surprisingly, velvet tree.

I’m forever seeing things that make me wonder how I could have possibly walked through these woods for 50 years and not seen them, and this is one of those. It was cone shaped, about two feet in diameter, made of soft sand, and stood about shin high. At first I thought it was some kind of termite mound but a little research showed it was made by ants. Specifically, field ants, which I’ve never heard of.

There were many of these mounds along the sunny side of a road, some quite big. I’ve read that the most likely builder is an ant named Formica exsectoides, also called wood ant, mound ant, thatching ant, and Allegheny field ant. These ants secrete formic acid and can squirt the acid several feet when alarmed. They use the acid to kill tree seedlings and any other plants that would grow around the mound and shade it from the sun. They do this because the mound acts as a solar collector for incubating eggs and larvae. In winter workers and queens move deep into the mounds to hibernate.

A deer walked through this ant mound, showing how soft the course sand and thatch material is. Thousands of ants can live in a single mound, so there were many hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of them in what was quite a large area. The mounds take many years and many ants to build, so the larger ones can apparently be quite old. It’s amazing what nature will teach you if you’re open to learning.

One recent day during the fall leaf cleanup I was blowing leaves and something caught my eye. I thought it was an earth worm at first but it turned out to be a small salamander, stuck to a leaf and frozen solid. Or so I thought; salamanders have a kind of sugar syrup antifreeze in them that keep their tissues and organs safe in the cold. It also keeps their cells from dehydrating as they stop breathing and their heart stops beating. They survive in this suspended animation state all winter long until the warm spring rains revive them. I put this one back where it had come from to sleep on until spring.

Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you. ~Freeman Patterson

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We were having some “triple H” weather here last weekend, which means hazy, hot and humid, so I wanted to get to a shady forest. I chose High Blue trail in Walpole because I was fairly sure that there would be a good breeze on the summit, which faces west. The trail starts out following an old logging road.

I started seeing things of interest almost as soon as I reached the old road. False Solomon’s seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) bloomed all along it. Some grow close to three feet tall but most are less than that; about knee high. False Solomon’s seal has small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of its stem. Soon the blossoms will give way to small reddish berries that provide food for many birds and other wildlife. It is said that a Native American tribe in California used crushed false Solomon’s seal roots to stun fish. Others used the plant medicinally.

Brittle cinder fungus (Kretzschmaria deusta) in this stage are stunning, in my opinion. I like the powder gray against the bright white margin. As they age they blacken and look like burnt wood and become very brittle and are easily crushed. They grow on dead hardwoods and cause soft rot, which breaks down both cellulose and lignin. In short, this is one of the fungi that help turn wood into compost.

This photo taken previously shows what the brittle cinder fungus will become; a black lump. Younger examples have a hard lumpy crust or skin, a piece of which can be seen in the upper left of the example in the photo. It’s hard to believe that it’s the same fungus that’s in the previous photo.

Grasses are flowering nearly everywhere I go now and I like looking at them closely. I don’t know this one’s name but I’ve learned enough about grasses to know that the yellow bits at the top are the male pollen bearing flowers and the wispy white bits on the lower half are the female flowers.

Fringed sedge (Carex crinite) grew in wet spots along the road. It’s a large sedge that grows in big, 2 foot tall clumps. I like its drooping habit and I’m not the only one, because it has become a popular garden plant. Many animals and waterfowl eat different parts of sedge plants, especially the seeds. Other names for this plant are drooping sedge and long-haired sedge.

The trail does a loop but I always take the left at the High Blue sign and walk in and out.

From here the logging road narrows down into little more than a foot path. The sunlight was dappled and my camera doesn’t do dappled well, so this isn’t the best photo I’ve ever taken.

Hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) does well up here and grows in large colonies all along the trail. I like the repeating patterns that they make. This fern likes shade but will tolerate extreme dryness well. Its common name comes from the way it smells like hay when it is bruised. This fern does well in gardens but gardeners want to make absolutely sure they want it because once they have it they’ll most likely have it for a long time. It’s very difficult to eradicate.

Last year the meadow suddenly became a cornfield and the corn attracted animals of all kinds, including bears. I’ve seen a lot of bear droppings all over this area ever since, so I carried a can of bear spray. Thankfully I didn’t have to use it.

Our brambles are coming into bloom and it looks like we might have a good blackberry harvest. Easy to pick blackberries can be found along virtually any rail trail and many woodland trails. Blackberries have been eaten by man for thousands of years. The discovery of the remains of an Iron Age woman called the Haraldskær Woman showed that she ate blackberries about 2500 years ago. The Haraldskær Woman is the body of a woman found naturally preserved in a peat bog in Jutland, Denmark in 1835. Native Americans made a strong twine from fibers found in blackberry canes, and they used piles of dead canes as barricades around villages. I’m guessing that anyone who had ever been caught on blackberry thorns wouldn’t have tried to make it through such a barricade.

Orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) was dotted here and there in the meadow. I see thousands of examples of yellow hawkweed for every one orange hawkweed plant and I’m not sure why that is. The plant might be from Europe but it’s far from invasive in this area. Maybe their scarcity is due to the color orange being virtually invisible to bees. Orange Flowers do reflect ultraviolet light though, so that means that some insects must find them.

As I usually do when I come here, I had to stop at what’s left of the old foundation. I’m not sure who lived up here but they had plenty of courage and were strong people. All of this land would have been cleared then and sheep would probably have lived in the pastures. It was a tough life in what the Walpole Town History describes as a “vast wilderness.” But it was populated; many Native Americans lived here and they weren’t afraid to show their displeasure at losing their land.

One of the reasons I chose this place was because there is a small pond on the summit and I wanted to see if it was covered with duckweed yet. I wanted to take a close look at the tiny plants but about all I could see was pine pollen floating on the surface.

There was some duckweed but it was too far off shore to be easily reached. This pond must be spring fed because it never dries up completely, even in last year’s drought when streams were disappearing. I always wonder if it was the family’s water source.

There are an estimated 259,000 miles of stone walls in the northeastern U.S., most of which are in New England, and many are here in New Hampshire. The stones were found when the recently cleared pastures were plowed and they were either tossed into piles or used to build walls, wells, foundations and many other necessities of the day. Sometimes entire houses were built of stone but wood was plentiful and easier to work with, so we don’t have too many stone houses from that time. Most of what we see is used in stone walls like this one, which cross and crisscross the countryside in every direction.

I always take a photo of the sign when I come here, but I’m not sure why. What it means is that at 1588 feet above sea level the summit is higher than the surrounding terrain, and the view is always blue.

As I thought it would be the view was very hazy on this day, but there was a nice cool breeze blowing and that alone made the short hike worth it on such a hot humid day.

It was so hazy I couldn’t even see Stratton Mountain over in Vermont, which is just across the Connecticut River Valley seen here.

The stone pile builder has been busy. I’ve wondered why anyone would carry stones all the way up here just to build an eyesore like this, but on this day I realized that it was much more likely that these stones are being taken from the stone wall we saw 4 photos back. I wonder if this person knows that taking stones from stone walls is a crime, punishable by having to pay three times the cost of restoring the wall, plus legal costs. This is because many of these old walls mark boundary lines and are recorded as such in property deeds. I’m not sure why anyone would risk it just to put piles of stones in other people’s way, but to each their own.

We’ve had a lot of rain recently but I was still surprised to see a slime mold growing on the side of a log. The book Mushrooms of Northeast (no, not northeastern) North America-Midwest to New England by George Barron has quite a good section on slime molds and it starts off with one called Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa. I believe that the photo above shows the cylindrical white fruiting bodies of Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, variety fruticulosa. There is a second variety of this slime mold called porioides, and the fruiting bodies look like tiny white geodesic domes. The fruiting bodies shown are so small and so fragile that one swipe of a finger can destroy hundreds of them.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

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1. Yellow Slime Mold

We’ve had some rainy weather here along with enough heat and humidity to get slime molds growing. I think this one might be Physarum polycephalum. This plasmodial slime mold, like many others, moves using cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass. From Mushroom Expert. Com : “Slime mold plasmodium is a mass of glistening vein-like material that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil at the rate of as much as an inch per hour, growing and eating.” I think that they are very beautiful things and I always look forward to seeing them after a good summer rain storm.

2. Coral Fungus with Slime Mold

The slime mold had a friend growing nearby on the same log. I think it might be crown coral (Clavicorona pyxidata.) Crown coral branches at right angles like a candelabra and each branch ends in a tiny little crown, just like what is seen here. Black eyed Susans haven’t even blossomed yet so it seems very early to be seeing both slime molds and coral fungi, but there they are. Whether I understand it or not, nature has its way.

3. Brittle Cinder fungus aka Kretzschmaria deusta

Brittle Cinder fungi (Kretzschmaria deusta) in this stage are stunning, in my opinion. I like the powder gray against the bright white. However, since it causes soft rot and will kill a tree, it isn’t something I like to see growing on living, healthy trees. Later on the fruiting bodies will turn into a brittle black crust.

 4. Bug on a Maple Leaf

This crane fly sat still long enough for me to admire its stained glass like wings and get a couple of photos. Many young birds have been raised on these harmless insects that are often mistaken for mosquitos.

5. Gall on Maple Leaf caused by maple bladdergall mite  V. quadripedes 2

I’m colorblind and have a lot of trouble with red and green, but even I could see these bright red galls on this maple leaf. They were the size of the BBs that are used in BB guns and each one sat on a tiny stalk. They were caused by a member of the maple bladder gall mite family called Vasates quadripedes. Galls are unsightly on ornamental trees but they don’t hurt the tree at all.

 6. Beech Seedling with Seed Leaves

Unless you own a nursery or spend a good deal of time in the woods, there’s a good chance that you’ve never seen the seed leaves of an American beech tree (Fagus grandifolia.) Seed leaves are called cotyledons and appear before a plant’s true leaves. If the plant has 2 seed leaves it is called a dicot (dicotyledon), and if only one it is called a monocot (monocotyledon.) The cotyledons are part of the embryo within the seed and contain stored food that the young plant needs to grow. As the food stores are used up the cotyledons might either turn green and photosynthesize, or wither and fall off. That’s the quick botany lesson of the day.  It’s hard to make it any more exciting.

7. Beech Seed Leaves

Seed leaves, as anyone who has ever started vegetables from seed knows, often look nothing like the true leaves.  In the case of American beech they look more like flower petals than leaves and feel tough and leathery. If you know of a beech tree that produces nuts, take a look underneath it in the spring for seedlings that still have their seed leaves. They are a rare sight.

8. Honey Locut Thorn

I once read a story by a Massachusetts man who said he took great delight in running through the forest. Not on a trail-just through the forest-and I shiver a bit when I think of all of the reasons that one shouldn’t do such a thing. One of those reasons is the honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos.) Its thorns grow from the bark of the branches and trunk and can reach up to 8 inches long. They are also very hard and sharp enough to pierce flesh. Thorns on fallen branches could also puncture some shoe soles, so it’s best to be aware of your surroundings when near this tree. Admire it but don’t meet it accidentally.

 9. Shining Bur Sedge aka Carex intumescens

Many sedges, rushes and grasses are flowering now. This is shining bur sedge (Carex intumescens,) which is also called bladder sedge. The tiny white bits are its flowers. Most sedges like moist soil and I usually find them near ponds and streams. When trying to identify something that looks like grass I always feel the stem first. There is an old saying that says “sedges have edges” because of their triangular stems. Grasses have round stems.

10. Porcupine Sedge

Sedges can also have funny names. This one is (I think) called porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina.)

11. Panicled Bulrush aka Scirpus microcarpus

Every summer for the past three years I’ve tried to get a decent photo of panicled bulrush (Scirpus microcarpus) where it didn’t fade into the background. Finally, by using the flash on a bright day, its panicles of flowers and leaf like bracts stand out from the background cattails and silky dogwoods. This plant has a triangular stem, so it is in the sedge family. It is also called small fruited bulrush. Though they aren’t related and don’t even look very much alike these plants always remind me of papyrus, which reminds me of the pyramids of Egypt and what you could see floating down the Nile. Sometimes the mind wanders as you walk along.

 12. Flowering Orchard Grass

According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.” I just like to look at its flowers but it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who thinks grasses are exciting.

 13. Wool Sower Gall Wap Gall on White Oak

I’ve never seen anything quite like this gall on an oak limb. It was createdd by the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator) and was the size of a ping pong ball but felt like a tennis ball. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the gall wasp, which will only build it on white oak and only in spring. There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls.

14. Royal Fern

Royal fern (Osmunda spectablis v. regalis) is one of the easiest plants in the forest to identify because nothing else looks quite like it. It has a light and airy appearance and is almost always found growing near water. The Osmunda part of the scientific name is believed to come from Osmunder, which is one of the Saxon names for the Norse god Thor. Royal fern is one of the oldest, largest and most beautiful ferns.

15. Ganoderma tsugae on Hemlock

Nature can show the brightest colors in the oddest places and I always wonder why. What benefit can this stalked bracket fungus called hemlock varnish shelf (Ganoderma tsugae) gain from all of that color? Do the colors relate to the minerals it is absorbing from this old hemlock log? And why do the colors change over time?

These are the kinds of questions that come to me as I wander through the woods, even though I don’t really expect to ever find the answers to them. Maybe there are no answers-maybe the colors are there just so we can admire them for a time and feel grateful to be alive in the midst of all of the natural beauty that surrounds us.

One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life, and one that many persons never learn, is to see the divine, the celestial, the pure, in the common, the near at hand – to see that heaven lies about us here in this world. ~John Burroughs

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