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Posts Tagged ‘Dead Man’s Fingers’

With all the rain we’ve had mushrooms are sprouting up everywhere now and, though we usually have an orange  / yellow phase followed by a purple phase, this year they all seem to be coming at the same time. I’m not sure if the orange / yellows are late or if the purples are early. Anyhow, butter wax caps (Hygrocybe ceracea) are one of the most photogenic of all mushrooms, in my opinion. They are a pretty, yellow, medium sized mushroom that almost always grows in groups.

In time the cap on butter wax cap mushrooms loses its conical shape and flattens out as if to show off its pretty yellow gills.

Hemlock varnish shelf mushrooms (Ganoderma tsugae) not surprisingly, grow on hemlock trees. This mushroom’s common name comes from its shiny red cap, which looks like it has been varnished. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

I love the colors in this bolete mushroom, which I think is the two colored bolete (Boletus bicolor.) As you can see by the photo, slugs (and maybe a squirrel or two) like it too. From what I’ve read there are several reddish colored boletes but most are small with flesh that stains blue after it has been cut or damaged. There is only one with flesh that stays yellow when damaged and that is the two colored bolete. This example was large, with the diameter of a cantaloupe.

Another pretty mushroom is the purple cort (Cortinarius iodeoides.) The caps always look wet but they aren’t-they are slimy, and that’s why they often have leaves, pine needles, and other forest debris stuck to them. This one was surprisingly clean.

Purple corts often lose their sliminess and develop white or yellow streaks as they age and this is a good way to identify them. They always look psychedelic to me at this stage and remind me of the 60s, but I’d never eat one. The taste is said to be very bitter.

Common earth ball (Scleroderma citrinum) is a type of puffball that I can’t say is real common here. I see maybe one or two each year. Another name for it is the pigskin poison puffball because it is toxic. It likes to grow on compacted soil like that found on forest trails. They often have a yellow color on their surface and are also called citrine earth balls because of it. I found one last year that was a beautiful lemon yellow.

Black jelly drops (Bulgaria inquinans) grew on an oak log. Though these fungi are also called poor man’s licorice they aren’t edible and depending on what you read, might be poisonous. I’ve read that in parts of China they are considered a delicacy but it sounds to me like they’re best left alone.

Though they look and feel like gumdrops in a velvet cup black jelly drops are not jelly fungi; they are sac fungi. Their fertile surface is shiny, and the dark brown outsides of the cup look like felt. This mushroom is sometimes used for dying fabric in mostly blacks and browns, purples and grays. It is thought that the Bulgaria part of the scientific name might refer to a leathery skin, like a wine skin.

This is what black jelly fungi look like when they’re young. They’re very small and hard to see because they blend into the color of the surrounding bark so well. They are usually found on oak trees that have been felled and cut up for firewood, and that is exactly where I found these examples. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this fungus.

Dead man’s fingers (Xylaria polymorphaare) are a type of fungi that often look like a human finger. As they age dead man’s finger fungi begin to darken. The lighter areas on them are covered with spores that are produced in early stages of their development. These fungi cause soft rot in the wood they grow on. In the final stages of their life dead man’s finger fungi darken until they turn black, and then they simply fall over and decompose. These examples grew out of the soil but there was probably an unseen log or tree roots that they were actually growing on.

I’m not positive but I think this crust fungus is a young example of the netted crust fungus. Netted crust fungi (Byssomerulius corium) are common and grow on the undersides of branches. The corium part of the scientific name means skin or hide, and refers to the skin-like growth of this fungus. Quite often bracket or shelf like growths will form along its edges. This fungus has tiny net-like ridges in its surface, and that’s how the netted crust comes by its common name.

It’s hard to do a post on fungi without including mycelium. Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae. When mushroom spores grow they produce mycelium, which eventually produces fruit, which is the above ground part that we see. The mycelium in the above photo grew just under last year’s leaves. Mycelium growths can be among the largest living things on earth. A huge honey mushroom (Armillarea ostoyae) mycelium in Oregon’s Blue Mountains covers 2,384 acres and holds the record as the world’s largest known organism. It is thought to be between 2,400 and 8,650 years old.

Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi) grew at the base of a tree. These are some of the biggest mushrooms that I’ve seen and I put a quarter on this one so you could see just how big it was. A quarter is about an inch across.  This large bracket fungus often reaches two feet across. It grows on the roots of hardwood trees and causes butt rot in the tree’s heartwood. The wood turns white before rotting away and leaving a standing hollow tree.

Pine dye polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is also called the velvet topped fungus because of its velvety feel. These large bracket fungi are parasitic on the roots and heartwood of living white pines in the eastern U.S. and cause root and heart rot. I usually find them on logs or roots but I found these examples on the trunk of a live tree, and that means its death sentence. This fungus changes color as it ages and can be any one of several different colors. A lot of those I see are a deep, beautiful red/ maroon color. If found when young they can be used to dye wool a soft yellow or orange color, and older examples will dye wool brown. This mushroom has the odd habit of sprouting “baby mushrooms” from its cap.

Shaggy parasol mushroom (Chlorophyllum rhacodes) has shaggy brown scales on a white background on its cap, but this example is shaggier than any photo I’ve seen of one so this identification has to be taken with a grain of salt. I found this example growing in deep shade by an old stump.

And that reminds me of something that I should say in every mushroom post: It is never a good idea to eat any mushroom you aren’t 100 percent sure of because there are mushrooms that can kill, and people still do die and / or get very sick from eating them each year despite all the warnings. In June of last year 14 people in San Francisco were poisoned by eating death cap mushrooms (amanita phalloides,) one of the deadliest mushrooms known. Three of them needed liver transplants, including an 18-month-old girl. It seems unbelievable to me that there are still people out there who don’t know the dangers of mushroom poisoning but every year I read stories just like this one.

Coral mushrooms come in many colors, sizes, and shapes. This one was as big as a baseball. I think it might be a golden coral (Ramaria aurea) but as my mushroom books say, there are so many similar coral mushrooms that it’s hard to tell them apart without a microscope. I just enjoy seeing them.

Since this coral fungus has sprouted on a stump and not from the ground I think it might be crown coral (Clavicorona pyxidata.) Crown coral branches end in a tiny little crown, just like what is seen here.

Yellow finger coral fungi (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) look like tiny yellow flames licking up out of the forest floor. Each finger might reach an inch high and grow in tight clusters, while look alikes do not. They are also called spindle corals and like to grow in the hard packed earth along forest trails. It is for that reason that I often find them stepped on and broken, but these examples were in good condition. They are said to have flesh that is very bitter.

Jelly babies (Leotia lubrica) look like a mushroom with a stem and a cap but if you look under the cap you won’t see any gills or pores. Despite their name jelly babies are sac fungi rather than jelly fungi and their spores are produced on the upper surface of the cap rather than on gill or pore surfaces. The caps might feel smooth, clammy or slimy and can be green, tan, orange or yellow. Stems also vary in color.

Jelly Babies grow on the soil or on well-rotted wood in both hardwood and conifer forests and are very small. This entire group would easily fit on a quarter, which is about an inch in diameter. On a good day a jelly baby might reach 2.5 inches tall, but they’re usually about an inch tall in my experience, with a cap that might grow as large as a pea. Jelly babies are both friend and teacher to me because they showed me an entire Lilliputian world that I never knew existed. One day I sat on a stone and looked down and there they were, the cutest little bunch of fungi I had ever seen, and they made me wonder what other tiny things I’d been missing. Since that day I’ve been paying attention and looking closer, and I’ve seen things that I couldn’t have ever imagined.

I usually come away from mushroom hunting with a few unknowns, and this one fits perfectly into that slot for this post. It’s a pretty little thing that must have won first prize; it looks like the forest elves have given it a blue ribbon.

The sudden appearance of mushrooms after a summer rain is one of the more impressive spectacles of the plant world. ~John Tyler Bonner

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1. Transparent Slime Mold

We’re really getting a taste of high summer now with frequent thunderstorms, 90 degree temperatures, and high humidly. As soon as that happens I start thinking about fungi and slime molds because those are the conditions that many of them prefer. Unfortunately slime molds can be difficult to identify and, even after hours of looking through books and online, I still can’t identify the tiny transparent slime mold in the above photo. Some slime molds start life transparent and then change both their shape and color, which doesn’t help. They also often grow in very dark places, so some of these photos were taken under LED light.

 2. White Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa Slime Mold

The reason slime molds interest me is because they are very beautiful, and also fascinating. Nobody really seems to know exactly how they move, but they do. When the microorganisms that they feed on become scarce, many of these single celled organisms meld together and move toward food as a single entity. The white finger slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. fruticulosa) in the above photo reminded me of a bed of kelp under the sea, all swaying in unison to the pull of a tide only they can feel.

 3. White Slime Mold

I’ve never seen this slime mold before and I was surprised to see the tiny gray starbursts, which must have been 1/16 of an inch or less, when I looked at the photo. I couldn’t see them in person because they were too small. I haven’t been able to identify them but I think that they are beautiful things. This photo was taken with the aid of an LED light.

4. Yellow Many Headed Slime Mold

As slime molds go, this many headed slime (Physarum polycephalum) is usually large and easy to see. This one covered the base of a tree. It was in its plasmodial stage and on the move. This photo was also taken with the aid of an LED light.

According to Wikipedia “a plasmodial slime mold is enclosed within a single membrane without walls and is one large cell. This super cell (a syncytium) is essentially a bag of cytoplasm containing thousands of individual nuclei.” Slime molds aren’t plants and they aren’t fungi. They come closer to being amoebas than anything else and are believed by some to have simple brains. My question is, how do they know what the others are “thinking?” They seem to have the same “group think” abilities as a school of fish or a flock of birds, and that is quite amazing.

5. Weeping Fuligo septica Slime Mold

No need for LED with this scrambled egg (Fuligo septica) slime mold. It is one of a handful that can be found in full sun. The example in the photo is in its spore bearing phase and has formed a mass called an aethalium. Once it has released its spores and completed its life cycle it begins to darken and degrade into a dark red liquid that resembles blood, which can also be seen in the photo. This slime mold feeds on wood and is often found in mulch beds. This one was on a white pine stump.

6. White Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa Slime Mold

One of my favorite shapes in the slime mold world is found in these honeycombed, dome shaped fruiting bodies of coral slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. porioides). They are so small and delicate that one swipe of a finger could wipe out hundreds of them. To find them I look at logs after a rain; to the naked eye they look like white powder on the side of the log. Luckily a shaft of sunlight lit this area enough so I didn’t have to use artificial lighting for this photo.

7. White Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa Slime Mold 2

In this photo, also in natural light, it looked like individual coral slime plasmodia were moving together to form a single mass. Slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism.

8. Yellow Coral Fungi aka Ramariopsis laeticolor

Slime molds aren’t the only tiny things that like to grow in dark places. I had to use a flash to get a shot of these yellow coral fungi (Ramariopsis laeticolor.) Each one was no bigger in diameter than a piece of cooked spaghetti, and they stood all of a quarter inch high.

I should say that, though slime molds and fungi like growing in dark places everything needs at least some light, and as I wandered the forest getting some of these photos one morning, I noticed that shafts of cool morning sunlight fell directly on or very near where they grew. Just because we may find them growing “in the dark,” and even though they don’t photosynthesize, that doesn’t mean that they don’t get an hour or two of sunlight each day. Sunlight also brings warmth and as I’ve studied fungi and slime molds over the years I’ve wondered if the reason they grow in a shaft of sunlight is because the soil is warmer there.

9. Dead Man's Finger aka Xylaria polymorpha

Dead man’s fingers (Xylaria polymorphaare) are a type of fungi that often look like a human finger. This one growing out of a crack in a beech log didn’t, but that was because it was a young example. They change their appearance as they age. This one had water droplets on it.

10. Dead Man's Fingers aka Xylaria polymorpha

As they age dead man’s finger fungi begin to darken. The lighter areas are covered with spores that are produced in early stages of their development. These fungi cause soft rot in the wood they grow on. Insects or slugs seem to love them, judging by the damage on these examples.

11. Dead Man's Finger aka Xylaria polymorpha

In the final stages of their life dead man’s finger fungi darken until they turn black, and then they simply fall over and decompose. These examples grew at the base of a maple stump. It doesn’t take a very vivid imagination to see what almost look like fingernails on a couple of them. Maybe I should have saved these photos for Halloween.

 12. Marasmius rotula Mushrooms

Even on its lowest setting the LED light I use to photograph mushrooms and slime molds casts a shadow, so I use tissue paper as a diffuser to make the light softer. This photo of these little pinwheel mushrooms (Marasmius rotula) shows what happens when I forget the tissue paper. I’ve been trying to think of a way to eliminate the tissue paper altogether but so far haven’t had any brilliant ideas.

13. Yellow Jelly Fungus

Witches butter (Tremella mesenterica) comes to life when it rains and can swell up dramatically from the hard, dark orange flake form that it takes in dry weather. I find this jelly fungus on tree limbs but it can also be a parasite on other types of fungi. The tremella part of its scientific name comes from the Latin tremere which means “to tremble,” and it does tremble just like gelatin. The mesenterica part of the scientific name is a combination of the Greek mesos, meaning “middle” and the prefix entero meaning “intestine.” Though the example in the photo doesn’t show it, the shape of this fungus often looks quite intestinal.

This is an excellent example of why we should pay attention to scientific names. The description provided by the scientific name of this fungus describes it perfectly in every detail, whereas “witches butter” tells us absolutely nothing, except maybe that the folks who roamed medieval forests were highly superstitious.

14. Splitgill Mushrooms

These are the largest split gill fungi (Schizophyllum commune) that I’ve ever seen; easily 3/4 of an inch across. The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds on its underside that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile surfaces as the mushroom shrivels in dry weather. When rehydrated by rain the splits reopen, exposing the spore-producing surfaces to the air, and spores are released. Split gills grow on every continent except Antarctica and are said to be the most studied mushrooms on earth.

15. Unidentified Slug

This hot humid weather brings out other creatures too. I’ve seen pink slugs eating fungi many times, but this one leaned more towards yellow-orange and must have been 2 inches long. It was quite dark where it was so I had to use the flash. Slug identification seems close to impossible, at least for me, so I can’t tell you its name.

Beauty is certainly a soft, smooth, slippery thing, and therefore of a nature which easily slips in and permeates our souls. ~Plato

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Here are a few more of those things that never seem to make it into regular posts.

 1. Alberta Wild Rose Hips aka  Rosa acicularis or prickly rose

Color is everywhere you look right now and nothing represents the color red better than rose hips. I’ve never seen such prickly ones before, but I think these are the fruits of the Alberta wild rose (Rosa acicularis), which is also called prickly rose.

 2. Baby Spider Nest

Some friends told me about a large spider nest on one of their plants, so I tried to get some photos of it. It wasn’t easy.

 3. Baby Spiders

A closer look at the nest shows that it was full of hundreds of baby spiders. These were near water and I’m wondering if they were fishing spiders.

 4. Black Chanterelle

Earlier this year I found some rarely seen black chanterelle mushrooms (Craterellus cornucopioides.) This mushroom is also called the deep purple horn of plenty and I really didn’t expect to ever find them again but here they are.

5. Dead Man's Finger

Another mushroom I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see was dead man’s fingers (Xylaria longipes) but I saw two examples recently. This black “finger” was about two inches long and was hard to see. Scientists recently discovered that this fungus will affect spruce wood used for violin making in such a way as to make instruments made from it virtually identical in tone to s Stradivarius violin.  Stradivarius cut his wood during the cold winter months and the wood had a very low density. Dead man’s finger fungus works on wood at the cellular level to make it denser and at a recent test event an audience of 180 people couldn’t tell the difference between the tone of a Stradivarius and a new violin played with wood treated with this fungus. I assume that the audience was well versed in violin music and would know about such things.

 6. Orange Mycena Mushrooms

I found more orange mycena mushrooms (Mycena leaiana) growing on a log. I like to get a view of the gills on these little mushrooms if I can. Scientists have found that the compound that makes this mushroom orange has antibiotic properties.

 7. Burning Bush Foliage

The leaves of burning bush (Euonymus alatus) go from green to crimson to purplish pink and, before they fall, will fade to a light, pastel pink. In the fall drifts of this shrub in the forest are truly a beautiful sight. Unfortunately the red berries make it one of the most invasive shrubs known. So invasive in fact, that buying or selling this shrub is against the law in New Hampshire. Unfortunately the genie is out of the bottle and I think that it is here to stay. This shrub is also called winged euonymus and is originally from northern Asia.

 8. Hobblebush Leaves

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) leaves change color slowly, with the veins last to go. Viburnums have been used by man in many ways since before recorded history. The Neolithic “Iceman” found frozen in the Alps was carrying arrow shafts made from a European Vibunum wood.

 9. Maple Leaf Viburnum Foliage

Maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) leaves become light, pastel pink before they fall, much like the burning bush. These examples were kind of splotchy, with green still showing. This is the smallest of our native viburnums, usually only 3-4 feet tall and its berries are dark blue-black. It grows mainly at the edge of the forest.

10. Indian Pipes

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are still poking up out of the ground despite the cooler nights.

11. Indian Pipe Seed Capsule

Most Indian pipes look like this at this time of year. When its flower has been pollinated Indian pipe raises its nodding head and begins to turn brown and woody. Over time its dust like seeds will be released. Next year’s flower buds form in the fall, but don’t break ground until it is warm enough.

 12. Toadskin Lichen

Common toad skin lichen (Lasallia papulosa) has a pit on its underside for every wart on its face. These warty bumps are called pustules. Like many lichens this one changes color, becoming greener as it gets wetter. I kind of like the blue-gray color this one was when I found it.

13. Crown Vetch

Crown vetch (Securigera varia) still blooms in the tall grass on roadsides. This plant has been used extensively on the sides of larger roads and highways to prevent erosion. We haven’t had a hard frost or freeze yet, so it might bloom for a while yet.

14. Lowbush Blueberry Blossoms

One foggy morning I met a very confused lowbush blueberry blooming about 6 months later than usual. The fog explained the water droplets, but I don’t know what would have caused the bubble. If it is a bubble-maybe it was just another water droplet that was an over achiever.

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. ~Frank Lloyd Wright

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