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Posts Tagged ‘Fall Fungi’

We burn a lot of wood here in New Hampshire because with 4.8 million acres of forest it is plentiful and usually costs less than oil heat. One of the things I like about burning wood is the handling of it. Cutting, splitting and stacking means you have to handle each piece a few times, and when you do you notice things that you might have never seen while the tree was standing. The following photos are of the various things I found in this woodpile.

Black jelly drop fungi (Bulgaria inquinans) grew on an oak log. They are also called poor man’s licorice but they aren’t edible. They look and feel like black gumdrops, and for some unknown reason are almost always found on oak trees that have been felled and cut up for firewood.

Though they look like jelly fungi black jelly drops are sac fungi. Their fertile, spore bearing surface is shiny and the outside of the cups look like brown velvet. They are sometimes used for dying fabric in blacks, browns, purples and grays.

This is an example of a true jelly fungus, which is little more than a bag of water that inflates to about 60 times its dry size when it rains. If it was dry this amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) would be just a dark flake on the tree’s bark.  After absorbing plenty of rainwater this example was about as big as an average adult fingernail. Jelly fungi feel cool to the touch and kind of rubbery, like your ear lobe. Their spores are produced on their shiny surfaces. If you look closely at them you can see that one side is shiny and the other has more of a matte finish. I find these on oak more than other species, but sometimes on poplar and alder as well.

This brown jelly cup fungus (Peziza repanda) looked a little tattered and dirty but it’s a good example of the variety of fungi you can find on cut logs. Though it is called a jelly cup it is a sac fungus and different Peziza species can grow on wood, soil, or dung. This example is a cool weather mushroom that grows on hardwood logs or wood chips, and it is usually seen in spring and fall.  Mushroom expert Michael Kuo says brown cup fungi can be very difficult to identify.

Hairy Stereum (Stereum hirsutsm) is also called the hairy curtain crust fungus. The common name comes from the way these fungi are covered with fine velvety hairs on their upper surface when they’re young. They like to grow on fallen hardwoods and can be found just about any time of year. The color can vary but the wavy edge helps identify them. These examples were very young.

Witch’s butter on a log in a woodpile might alert you to the fact that you’ve got some soft wood mixed in with your hardwood, because this fungus usually grows on hemlock logs. You can burn soft woods like hemlock but they burn faster and don’t heat quite like hardwoods. They can also cause a lot of creosote buildup in a chimney.

Many of the logs shown in the first shot in this post were dragged. It’s a common practice to have to drag cut trees out of a forest to a landing so they can be cut into manageable pieces and loaded onto logging trucks, and when this one was dragged a woodpecker hole became filled with soil. This is a good time to mention that nearly every log shown in this post came from a tree that had something wrong with it. Woodpeckers dig holes in tree trunks to get at insects living in the tree; often carpenter ants. The ants eat the cellulose and weaken the tree, and it isn’t that unusual to find that the tree you’ve cut is completely hollow.

This example was hollowed out either by insects or heart rot cause by a fungus. Mushrooms and other fungi growing on trees is never a good sign. All of this weakens the tree and when a good wind comes along, down they go. Friends of mine just lost their barn to a hundred + year old pine tree that fell and cut the barn right in half. The tree people estimated its weight at 20 tons. That’s 40,000 pounds of wood, and we’re all very thankful that we weren’t anywhere near it when it fell. It was hollow, just like the one in the photo. It was also full of big, black carpenter ants.

This tree had a double whammy. The channels were caused by insects, probably carpenter ants, and then fungal spores got in and revealed themselves when they fruited into these little white mushrooms. It’s possible that the insects in the tree were farming this mushroom and brought parts of it into their channels to feed on. In any event this tree’s life was shortened by quite a few years. It could have stood hollow and lived on for a long time but heaven help anyone who was near it when it finally came down.

A woodpecker made two holes in this oak tree, one above the other, and as the tree tried to heal itself the holes became spoon shaped. It’s another example of what was a standing hollow tree.

Everyone knows that moss grows on trees but what everyone might not know is that many trees like this oak have channels in their bark which direct rainwater down to the tree’s roots. They can be clearly seen in this example, and so can the moss growing right beside and between them. Mosses like a lot of water and when they grow on a tree trunk they get it by growing next to these vertical streams. Do they grow on the north side of trees? Yes, and on the east, west, and south sides too; whichever is more moist.

Lichens are a common sight in woodpiles and beard lichens are very common. Often you can see them growing all up and down the trunks of trees and much like mosses, lichens grow near the channels in the bark so they can get ample moisture. I think this example is a fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula,) so called because of its resemblance to the backbone of a fish. Many people seem to think that lichens will kill a tree but they are simply opportunists looking for all the rain and sunlight they can get and they just perch on trees like birds do. They take nothing from the tree, so if I pulled this one off this log and put it on a living tree it would just grow on as if nothing ever happened as long as it received the right amount of moisture and light. Lichens are virtually indestructible and that’s why some scientists say they are immortal, or as close to immortal as any living thing can be.

I think this is the start of a beautiful crust fungus called the wrinkled crust (Phlebia radiata.) These mushrooms lie flat on the wood they grow on and have no stem, gills or pores. They radiate out from a central point and can be very beautiful. The darker area on this example is where it was wet and the lighter ones where it was dry. They don’t mind cool weather; I usually find them at this time of year and I’m hoping I’ll find a few more.

I’m not a logger or an arborist so I don’t know why this log has such a dark ring just under its bark. I zoomed in on the photo and counted the rings and found that the dark ring started about 12-14 years ago. Something must have happened back then to cause the change, but I can’t guess what it was.

I do know what caused the purple staining in this log; iron, meaning it has foreign objects like screws or nails in it. Sawmills look for this kind of thing when logging trucks bring in a load of logs and they’ll reject the whole load if they see it.

Here’s an example of a foreign object embedded in a tree. In a few more years the tree would have grown over it and it never would have been seen. The only thing that would have given it away was the purple staining when the tree was cat. Nothing will destroy a saw blade or chain quicker than something like this.

If all the stars and planets are aligned perfectly and you pay close attention to your wood pile you could find something as rare and beautiful as this cobalt crust fungus (Terana caerulea) in it. This photo was taken about three years ago and I’ve been looking for this beautiful fungus ever since, but have never seen another one. This is just the time of year for it to appear, so I’ll be watching for it.

The old saying, as I’ve always heard it, says that firewood warms you three times; once when you cut it, once when you stack it, and once when you burn it, and I’d have to say that was just about right. If you dress in layers against the cold you’ll find yourself peeling them off in a hurry once you get to the wood pile. I’ve always looked at cutting and splitting wood as an enjoyable job though, and I hope this post might make the job of getting your woodshed filled just a little more enjoyable too.

The knots in the wood can’t be untied. ~Marty Rubin

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Heath Waxcap

It’s still very dry here but we do get an occasional day of showers. That’s often enough to encourage a few mushrooms, but I haven’t seen anywhere near the numbers that I’ve seen in years past. Right now is just about time for the yellow / red / orange mushrooms to stop fruiting, and for the purple ones start. This orange example wasn’t very big but it was perfectly shaped for a mushroom. I think it might be a heath wax cap (Hygrocybe laeta.)

2. Purple Cort

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. Slugs don’t have a problem eating it and I often see white trails on the caps where they have eaten through the purple coating to the white flesh below. You can just see that on the left side of this one’s cap.

3. Aging Purple Cort

Purple corts often develop white or yellow streaks as they age and this is a good way to identify them. This example looked positively psychedelic but no, it’ll only make you sick.

4. Yellow Spindle Coral

Yellow spindle coral fungi (Ramariopsis laeticolor) are still coming up. These examples were some of the tallest I’ve seen at around three inches. An increase in height doesn’t seem to change their diameter however; these were still close to the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti. They have the odd habit of growing in the packed earth of trails so I often find that they have been stepped on and broken. I think of these mushrooms as bright but tiny flames coming up out of the soil.

5. Hairy Curtain Crust

I don’t know for sure but I think this hairy orange bracket fungus might be a single example of the hairy curtain crust (Stereum hirsutum.) Their color is said to be very variable and at times significantly different from one to another, so identification can be difficult, even for experienced mushroom hunters.

6. Russell's Bolete

There are many bolete mushrooms that look alike but I think this one is Russell’s bolete (Boletellus russellii) because of the scaly brownish cap and the way that it grew under oak and pine trees. Most boletes have pores rather than gills on the underside of the cap, but there are one or two that have gills. They are sometimes called sponge mushrooms and will often bruise different colors when touched. This one bruises bright yellow; others bruise blue, red, or black.

7. Russell's Bolete

The stem of a Russell’s bolete has deep grooves and angular ridges and looks as if it had been made from the wood of a cholla cactus. The pinkish color is an identifying characteristic.

8. Possible Orange Birch Boletes

These boletes grew right over the entrance to a chipmunk burrow and it looks like it might have tasted the smaller one. Actually I’m not sure if chipmunks eat mushrooms but squirrels sure do, and they start eating them early in the morning before lazy photographers can get going and get a photo of them. I wonder if these examples are orange birch boletes (Leccinum versipelle.)

9. Jelly Babies

To see small things you need to re-train your eyes. (And your mind, somewhat.) Jelly babies (Leotia lubrica) taught me that; one day I sat down on a stone to rest and looked down and there they were. I was surprised by how tiny they were, but they helped me see that forests are full of things just as small and sometimes many times smaller. You need to be ready (and able) to flatten yourself out on the forest floor to get good photos of jelly babies.

10. White Slime Mold

Some of the smallest things that I try to get photos of are slime molds. Though they aren’t classified as fungi they often grow near and sometimes on mushrooms. In nature everything gets eaten; even fungi. I think this slime mold is a coral slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, variety fruticulosa.)

11. Turkey Tails

I think these turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) must have been young because they all wore velvet. Though turkey tails are very common I’ve seen only a few over the past two years, and those weren’t as colorful as they sometimes are. I always like finding the blue and purple ones. I might see one blue or purple turkey tail colony for every hundred brown ones.

12. Purple Turkey Tails

The day after I wrote that I hadn’t seen any blue or purple turkey tails (Trametes versicolor,) guess what I found? Some fungi can be every bit as beautiful as flowers and that’s one reason why finding them is so much fun.

13. Banded Polypore

Another common bracket fungus is the red banded polypore (Fomitopsis pinicola.) These are much larger and tougher than turkey tails and like to grow on conifers, especially spruce logs and stumps where they will often grow for many years. This is considered a decay fungus and it causes heart rot, so seeing it on a living tree does not bode well for the tree.

14. Crust Fungus

Wet rot (Coniophora puteana) is a fungus that will grow on wet timbers or other wood structures in houses and seeing it there is never a good sign. It is also called the cellar fungus and likes wood that stays consistently damp. Any time this fungus is seen on the wood of a house that wood will most likely need to be replaced. Luckily this example was growing on a rotting log in a shaded part of the forest.

15. Jack O' Lantern aka Omphalotus illudens

I wouldn’t feel right if I did a mushroom post without adding a reminder that some mushrooms are poisonous, like these examples of what I think are Jack O’ Lanterns (Omphalotus olearius.) Tom Volk of Tom Volk’s Fungi says “They smell very good, and many people have been tempted to eat this fungus — but it’s poisonous. Omphalotus poisoning usually manifests itself as severe cramps, vomiting and diarrhea, all of which can last up to a few days.” That doesn’t sound like a very good way to spend a few days to me, but it illustrates how important accuracy is when it comes to collecting mushrooms for food. If you think you’ve found Jack O’ Lantern mushrooms and are unsure of their identity just look at one in a darkened room; through a process called bioluminescence the gills of Jack O’ Lanterns glow green in the dark.

Take a walk outside – it will serve you far more than pacing around in your mind. ~Rasheed Ogunlaru

Thanks for stopping in.

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