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Posts Tagged ‘Fungal Mycelium’

In my last post I said I had never seen a dandelion blooming in February but never mind; this one was blooming on Leap Day. Now I’ve seen them bloom in all of the coldest months of December, January and February. They’re a hardy plant, and pretty too.

The morning sunlight caught in the trees always makes me slow down on my way to work but on this day it was so beautiful I had to stop. There is little else like a spring morning; cool but with a hint of the warmth that the day will bring. Even as a young boy a morning like this one made me so happy I felt like I could become part of it; maybe I could float up into the trees with the birds and sing their praises along with them. I know just how they feel on such beautiful mornings, and I’ve known for a very long time. It’s about what a joy it is to be alive.

I was splitting wood at work and picked up a log and found these winter oysterling mushrooms (Panellus ringens) growing on it. At least I think that’s what they are after comparing them to photos and descriptions I’ve found online. I can’t find them in any of my mushroom books but I did see some examples found in Connecticut online. They’re small and said to be reddish brown but my color finding software sees more orange than red. They are a true winter mushroom that doesn’t mind the cold and they were as limber as my ear lobe. They’re said to be bioluminescent, but I have no way of confirming that.

Winter oysterlings have an off center stem. It seems odd how they grow with their gills up but in my experience mushrooms want their spore bearing surfaces pointed toward the ground and what I saw as up might have been down while they grew on the log. I didn’t see them until their log reached the wood splitter so it was hard to know how they grew. This photo does show how they’ve erupted out of a flattish mass.

When I split open another log I saw future fungi in the form of mycelium. For those who don’t know, mycelium can be compared to roots in the way that they reach out from the fruiting body of a fungus to search for moisture and nutrients. Botanically it is the vegetative structure of a fungus and the mushrooms we see above ground grow from it. They can be tiny or as large as a forest. The largest one known covers 2,385 acres in the Malheur National Forest in Oregon. Unfortunately it is from the Armillaria ostoyae fungus, which is parasitic on tree roots and will kill trees.

If you strip the inner bark (phloem) of an oak log you can find fibers that are useful in the making of lashings and cordage. Once the fibers are twisted together to make cordage they are quite strong and can be used for anything we would normally use string or rope for. The outer bark had fallen off this oak log naturally due to weather, exposing the fibers underneath. The phloem carries food to the rest of the tree so normally these fibers would run parallel to the length of the log but the weather must have had its way with these because they were all in a jumble as you see here. Native Americans turned tree fibers into threads and cords and made ropes, fishing lines, nets, mats, baskets and even shoes out of them.

Another red oak log just happened to split just right to reveal an insect’s egg chamber deep inside. When you see a woodpecker pecking at a tree this is what it’s looking for. I’m not sure what the insect was but before I split the log open there were about 30 larvae in this one chamber. Lots of protein for a hungry bird.

This is what a pileated woodpecker can do to a tree when it looks for those larvae in the previous photo. It had almost cut this dead beech right in half and wood chips littered the snow.

A beech log when cut revealed spalting. Spalted wood is evidence of fungal damage. Sometimes woods affected by fungi can become very desirable to woodworkers, and spalted wood is one of them. Spalting is essentially any form of wood coloration caused by fungi but there are 3 major types; pigmentation, white rot and zone lines. Sometimes all 3 can be present as they are on the end grain of the beech in the above photo. Pigmentation is the blue gray color, which is probably caused by bluestain or sapstain. White rot is in any areas that look soft or pulpy, and the zone lines are the dark, narrow lines found radiating randomly throughout the log.

This is what a spalted log looks like when it has been split. They can be very beautiful and when sawed into planks can be worth quite a lot of money.  

I’m seeing lots of orange crust fungi on the logs I’m splitting. I think they’re one called Stereum complicatum. It’s color is so bright it’s like a beacon in the woods and it can be seen from quite far away on fallen branches. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself” and that is often just what it does.

I picked up a log and put it on the wood splitter and saw what I thought was a leaf fluttering in the wind, and then I saw the legs and realized it was a butterfly. A butterfly in February? Apparently, and the closest I can come with an identification is the question mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis.) According to what I’ve read September laid eggs develop into the winter form of the butterfly, which appear in late fall and spend the winter in various shelters. This one had no shelter and hung onto this log for dear life in a strong wind. When I took  photos the log it was on was vibrating on the log splitter so this is the best of a bad lot. Its long white legs reminded me of the Rockette dancers.

Whenever I see spruce gum on a tree I always wonder who the first person was to peel it off the tree and chew it. When I see it I don’t think of chewing it, but someone did. If you gently heat the resin, which is called spruce gum, of the black spruce tree (Picea mariana,) it will melt down into a liquid which can then be strained and poured into a shallow pan or other container to cool. After about half an hour it will be hardened and very brittle, and when broken into bite sized pieces it can be chewed like any other gum. Spruce gum is antiseptic and good for the teeth. It has been chewed by Native Americans for centuries and was the first chewing gum sold in the United States.

Sweet gale (Myrica gale) is also called bog rosemary. It likes to grow on the banks of acidic lakes, bogs and streams. Touching the foliage releases a sweet, pleasant scent from its resinous leaves which have been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent. Though it is a native plant here it also grows native in Europe, where it is used as an ingredient in beer making in some countries. It is also used in an ointment used to treat sensitive skin and acne. Its buds are very pretty, but also very small.  They will open and flower in spring.

Two or three years the white pines (Pinus strobus) in this area had a mast year and tens of thousands of pine cones fell. This year strong winds have stripped branches from the trees and every one I look at is loaded with tiny undeveloped cones like the one in this photo, so it looks like we’re headed for another mast year for white pines. Mast are the fruits, seeds and nuts of trees and shrubs, which are eaten by wildlife. Hard mast is made up of nuts, seeds and cones and soft mast are berries, apples and such. A mast year means lots of food for wildlife like the white footed mouse, which carries Lyme disease, so they do have an impact on humans as well. This cone was about an inch long.

Here is something I’d bet most people never see; the open spore cases of the sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis.) This fern is a good wetland indicator and they grow all alongside streams and rivers in the almost always wet soil. Their shin high, spore bearing fronds full of round black spore cases make them very easy to see in winter but I rarely see them opened as these were.

This is what sensitive fern spore cases usually look like. Early colonists noticed that this fern was very sensitive to frost and they gave it its common name. It has toxic properties and animals rarely eat it, but some Native American tribes used its root medicinally.

A mud puddle had evaporated but it left these long ice crystals behind. Puddle ice is an endless source of fascination and beauty.

In my experience I’ve only seen ice needles in spring or fall before the ground freezes or after it has thawed, so these examples that I saw recently were a good sign of spring. When the air temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit right at the soil surface and the soil and groundwater remains thawed, hydrostatic pressure can force the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. From what I’ve seen the needles almost always freeze together and form ribbons, but few of these did.

Though this photo of Mount Monadnock may not look very spring like, down here in the lowlands most of the snow is gone and what’s left is melting quickly. The record keepers at the state capital say that February was 3.5 degrees above average, and that makes for a short winter. Flowers are starting to bloom and the red winged blackbirds have returned. The furnace runs less each day and grass is greening up in places, so though the calendar might not say spring yet all signs are certainly pointing to it.

The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first; be not discouraged – keep on – there are divine things, well envelop’d; I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.  ~Walt Whitman

Thanks for coming by.

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1-pond

Every now and then I get discombobulated and run out of ideas for blog posts. Inspiration is a funny thing that seems to come and go as it pleases, and though it has left me only three or four times since I started this blog it is always a bit disconcerting when it happens. It is almost as if my mind has gone completely blank as far as ideas are concerned but I’ve learned that this can be a special time, because when it happens I simply walk into the forest and let nature lead me where it will. On this day I decided to visit a local pond.

2-leaves-on-water

There were many leaves on the water surface, most of them oak.

3-oak

But not all of them had fallen. Oak leaves are still beautiful, even when they’re finished photosynthesizing.

4-low-water

The 8 foot strip of sand where there usually isn’t any showed how the drought has affected this pond.

5-alder-tongue-gall

Instead of being caused by an insect like many galls, alder (Alnus incana) 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 and are usually found on alders that grow near swamps, ponds and streams. There are many alders along the shores of this pond.

6-false-dandelion

The big surprise of the day was this false dandelion blossom (Hypochaeris radicata.) The flowers of false dandelion look much the same as those of true dandelions in a photo, but in the field they are much smaller and stand on 6-8 inch long, wiry stems. They’re obviously very hardy.

7-trail

All of the previous photos were taken before I had even set foot on the nice wide trail that follows along one side of the pond. That’s how much there is to see here.

8-fern-on-stone

The boulder that you can see on the right in the previous photo had a crack in it and one of our evergreen ferns decided to call it home. I’ve known this fern for several years now and I’ve never seen it get much bigger than an orange.

9-beech-leaves

I was grumbling to myself about the harsh sunlight and how difficult it was to take a decent photo in conditions like these, and then I saw this and stopped grumbling. The sunlight coming through the beech leaves made a beautiful picture and I sat down on a stone to take a photo and admire the scene. That’s when nature decided to show me a few more things.

10-bark-beetle-markings

I looked down and saw a pine limb that had been attacked by bark beetles. There’s nothing unusual about that but what was unusual were the channels that looked as if they had saw teeth. They’re usually smooth sided and I’ve never seen any like them and haven’t been able to find anything like them on line. They reminded me of ancient hieroglyphs. I’d like to know more about them if anyone is familiar with them.

11-squirrels-lunch

To my right on a log was what remained of a squirrel’s lunch. It looked like there was plenty of acorn meat left and I wondered if I had scared it away. Squirrels in this neck of the woods like to sit up on a log or stone or even a picnic table to eat; virtually anywhere off the ground. An adult gray squirrel can eat up to two pounds of acorns each week. Since there are 60-80 acorns in a pound a gray squirrel eats a lot of them each week. At the high end that’s 23 acorns per day. This year there are enough to support a lot of squirrels.

12-smoky-eye-boulder-lichen

A rock near the one I sat on was covered with beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens.) The blue bits are the spore bearing apothecial disks of the lichen. They have a waxy coating that reflects light much like the whitish bloom on blueberries and which makes them appear blue in the right light. The black border on each disk makes them really stand out from the body (Thallus) of the lichen even though each one is smaller than a baby pea.

13-mycelium

I rolled a log aside to see if there were any cobalt blue crust fungi on it but instead I saw this where the log had been. The mycelium of an unknown fungus was there in the leaves, reminding me of a distant nebula where stars are born, or a streak of lightning flashing in the evening sky, or a woman in the wind with her hair and dress blowing all about her. I love these beautiful bits of nature that can capture your mind and let you step outside of yourself for a time, oblivious to everything except the beauty before you. If somebody were to ask me right now why I spend so much time in the woods and why I do this blog I’d have to show them this photo. And then hope they understood that it’s all about the beauty of this life.

14-frosted-fungi

I saw a few bracket fungi on a nearby tree but they were past their prime. Our mushroom season is about over now except for a handful of the so called winter mushrooms.

15-witch-hazel

The fragrance of witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) was with me all along the path. Witch hazel is our last wildflower to bloom and is pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths. These moths raise their body temperature by shivering. Their temperature can rise as much as 50 degrees and this allows them to fly and search for food when it’s cold.  It must work well because our witch hazels are always loaded with seed pods.

16-script-lichen

Many script lichens decorated the tree trunks. I always find myself looking for words in photos like this one. I never find them but I do see random letters. The light colored background is the body of the lichen and the darker “script” is where it releases its spores. There are 39 species of script lichens in North America and many more throughout the world, and their most important identification characteristic is their squiggly apothecia. I’ve seen examples that have apothecia that all run horizontally or vertically, but most seem random like those in the photo. The script lichen I want to see most of all is the asterisk script lichen, with apothecia that look like tiny stars.

17-frullania-asagrayana-liverwort-2

There are about 800 species of Frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. It can look very lacy and fern like at times. Sometimes it reminds me of the beautiful fan corals found on distant coral reefs, as the above example does.

18-frullania-asagrayana-liverwort

The very small leaves of the Frullania liverwort are strung together like beads. Some Frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant but I keep forgetting to smell them. That probably happens because a close shot of them is always very hard for me to get and takes quite a lot of concentration.

19-quartz-vein-in-granite

In geology a vein is not tubular but is, according to Wikipedia  “a sheet like body of crystallized minerals within a rock. Veins form when mineral constituents carried by an aqueous solution within the rock mass are deposited through precipitation. The hydraulic flow involved is usually due to hydrothermal circulation.” Veins can also be beautiful, as this vein of milky quartz in a granite stone shows. If I remember my geology lessons correctly if the quartz were in a tubular form it would be called an intrusion.

So, that’s what nature showed me when I walked into the woods with a blank mind. The answer to what to write a blog post about came when I wasn’t thinking about the question. Just walking into the forest and looking around was all I needed to do.

Once you really commence to see things, then you really commence to feel things. ~Edward Steichen

Thanks for stopping in.

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