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Posts Tagged ‘Hen of the Woods’

We’re still very dry here and I haven’t seen hardly any of the mushrooms I’d expect to see but here was a dead birch tree full of golden pholiota mushrooms (Pholiota limonella) just like it was last year. I thought that’s what they were until I smelled them but these examples had no citrus scent, so I’d say they must be Pholiota aurivella which, except for its smaller spores and the lack of a lemon scent, appears identical.

The frustrating thing about mushroom identification is how for most of them you can never be sure without a microscope, and that’s why I never eat them. There are some that don’t have many lookalikes and though I’m usually fairly confident of a good identification for them I still don’t eat them. It’s just too risky.

One of my favorite fungal finds is called the tiger’s eye mushroom (Coltricia perennis.) One reason it’s unusual is because it’s one of the only polypores with a central stem. Most polypores are bracket or shelf fungi. The concentric rings of color are also unusual and sometimes make it look like a turkey tail fungus with a stem. The cap is very thin and flat like a table, and another name for it is the fairy stool. They are very tough and leathery and can persist for quite a long time.

I found it this hen of the woods fungus (Grifola frondosa,) growing at the base of an old oak tree. This edible polypore often grows in the same spot year after year and that makes it quite easy to find. They are said to look like the back of a brown hen’s ruffled feathers, and that’s how they come by their common name. Though they’re said to be brown I see green.

I saw a young fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) in a lawn recently. I love the metallic yellow color of these mushrooms when they’re young. They’re common where pine trees grow and this one was under a pine. The name fly agaric comes from the practice of putting pieces of the mushroom in a dish of milk. The story says that when flies drank the milk they died, but it’s something I’ve never tried. Fly agaric is said to have the ability to “turn off” fear in humans and is considered toxic. Vikings are said to have used it for that very reason.

I don’t see many stinkhorn fungi but I hit the stinkhorn jackpot this year; there must have been 20 or more of them growing out of some well rotted wood chips. I think they’re the common stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) and I have to say that for the first time I smelled odor like rotting meat coming from them because these example were passing on.  

Here was a fresher example. The green conical cap is also said to be slimy but it didn’t look it. This mushroom uses its carrion like odor to attracts insects, which are said to disperse its sticky spores. I saw quite a few small gnat like insects around the dying ones.

At this time of year I always roll logs over hoping to find the beautiful but rare cobalt crust fungus (Terana caerulea,) but usually I find this lighter shade of blue instead. I think it is Byssocorticium atrovirens. Apparently its common name is simply blue crust fungus. Crust fungi are called resupinate fungi and have flat, crust like fruiting bodies which usually appear on the undersides of fallen branches and logs. Resupinate means upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi appear to be. Their spore bearing surface can be wrinkled, smooth, warty, toothed, or porous and though they appear on the undersides of logs the main body of the fungus is in the wood, slowly decomposing it. They seem to be the least understood of all the fungi.

Some slime molds can be very small and others quite large. This one in its plasmodium stage was wasn’t very big at all, probably due to the dryness. When slime molds are in this state they are usually moving-very slowly. Slime molds are very sensitive to drying out so they usually move at night, but they can be found on cloudy, humid days as well. I think this one might be spreading yellow tooth slime (Phanerochaete chrysorhiza.) Slime molds, even though sometimes covering a large area, are actually made up of hundreds or thousands of single entities. These entities move through the forest looking for food or a suitable place to fruit and eventually come together in a mass.

Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) are ripe and red, waiting for a deer to come along and eat them. Deer must love them because they usually disappear almost as soon as they turn red. All parts of the Jack in the pulpit plant contain calcium oxalate crystals that cause painful irritation of the mouth and throat if eaten, but Native Americans knew how to cook the fleshy roots to remove any danger. They used them as a vegetable, and that’s why another name for the plant is “Indian turnip.”

False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) berries are fully ripe and are now bright red instead of speckled. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the drooping stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) is a native tree but you’re more likely to find them growing naturally north of this part of the state. I do see them in the wild, but rarely. Their red orange fruit in fall and white flowers in spring have made them a gardener’s favorite and that’s where you’ll see most of them here though they prefer cool, humid air like that found in the 3000 foot elevation range. The berries are said to be low in fat and very acidic, so birds leave them for last. For some reason early settlers thought the tree would keep witches away so they called it witch wood. Native Americans used both the bark and berries medicinally. The Ojibwe tribe made both bows and arrows from its wood, which is unusual. Usually they used wood from different species, or wood from both shrubs and trees.

Kousa dogwood fruit looks a little different but it’s the edible part of a Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa.) This dogwood is on the small side and is native to Asia. I don’t see it too often. It is also called Japanese or Korean Dogwood. Kousa Dogwood fruit is made up of 20-40 fleshy carpels. In botany one definition of a carpel is a dry fruit that splits open, into seed-bearing sections. Kousa dogwood fruits are said by some to taste like papaya.  

In my own experience I find it best to leave plants with white berries alone because they are usually poisonous, and no native plant illustrates this better than poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans.) Though many birds can eat its berries without suffering, when most humans so much as brush against the plant they can itch for weeks afterward, and those who are particularly sensitive could end up in the hospital. I had a friend who had to be hospitalized when his eyes became swollen shut because of it. Eating any part of the plant or even breathing the smoke when it is burned can be very dangerous.

All parts of the yew tree (Taxus) are poisonous except (it is said) the red flesh of the berry, which is actually a modified seed cone. The seed within the seed cone is the most toxic part of the plant and eating as few as 3 of them can cause death in just a few hours. In February of 2014 a man named Ben Hines died in Brockdish, Norfolk, England after ingesting parts of yew trees. Nobody has ever been able to figure out why he did such a thing but the incident illustrated how extremely toxic yews are.

Beavers are trying to make a pond in a river and they had dammed it up from bank to bank. It wasn’t the biggest beaver dam I’ve seen but it was quite big. The largest beaver dam ever found is in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park and spans about 2,800 feet. It has taken several generations of beavers since 1970 to build and it can be seen from space. Imagine how much water it is holding back!

Eastern or Virginia carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica) are huge; at least as big as half my thumb. They also look very different than the bumblebees that I’m used to. These bees nest in wood and eat pollen and nectar. They don’t eat wood but they will excavate tunnels through rotten wood. The adults nest through winter and emerge in spring. Though it is said to be common in the eastern part of the country I I see very few. I’ve read that they can be up to an inch long and this one was all of that. Females can sting but they do so only when bothered. Males don’t have a stinger.

Folklore says that the wider the orangey brown band on a wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. If we’re to believe it then this winter will not be very mild because this wooly bear has more black than brown on it. In any event this caterpillar won’t care, because it produces its own antifreeze and can freeze solid in winter. Once the temperatures rise into the 40s F in spring it thaws out and begins feeding on dandelion and other early spring greens. Eventually it will spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful tiger moth. From that point on it has only two weeks to live.

The upper surface of a painted lady’s wings look very different than the stained glass look of the undersides but unfortunately I can’t show that to you because the photos didn’t come out. This painted lady was kind enough to land just in front of me on a zinnia. It’s the only one I’ve seen this year.

There is little that is more appropriate than a bee sleeping on a flower, in my opinion. Here in southwestern New Hampshire we don’t see many wildflowers in October, but every now and then you can find a stray something or other still hanging on. The bumblebee I saw on this aster early one morning was moving but very slowly, and looked more like it was hanging on to the flower head rather than harvesting pollen. Bumblebees I’ve heard, sleep on flowers, so maybe it was just napping. I suppose if it has to die in winter like bumblebees do, a flower is the perfect place to do that as well. Only queen bumblebees hibernate through winter; the rest of the colony dies. In spring the queen will make a new nest and actually sit on the eggs she lays to keep them warm, just like birds do.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

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I saw quite a few mushrooms in September, including some I’ve never seen before, and I’m still finding them in October. This chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) mushroom was the biggest and most colorful. Another common name for them is sulfur shelf though I’ve worked with sulfur and this mushroom doesn’t remind me of it. I’ve read that as they age they lose the orange color but I don’t believe it now because I was able to watch these examples every day and they never lost their orange, even as they rotted away. The name chicken of the woods comes from the way they taste like chicken when cooked. Finding bright colors in the woods at any time of year is always a surprise and I always feel grateful that I was able to see them. This fungus was a beautiful thing and about as big as a soccer ball.

Chicken of the woods is yellow on the underside and has pores rather than gills. The pores are there in this photo but they are far too small to see.

We’ve seen the chicken so now for the hen. Hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa,) is an edible polypore that often grows in the same spot year after year. They are said to look like the back of a brown hen’s ruffled feathers, and that’s how they come by their common name. Though they’re said to be brown I always see green. My color finding software sees bands of gray, peach puff, and rosy brown, which is a surprise. I’ve seen a lot of these this year and every one grew at the base of an oak.

There is a whitish tan mushroom that grows on lawns and in the woods and isn’t very exciting so I’ve always ignored it.  After some research I found that it’s called the bluing bolete (Gyroporus cyanescens,) and if I had known that it turned a beautiful cornflower blue where it was bruised I would have looked more closely.

The bluing bolete is said to be edible but I certainly wouldn’t eat it or any mushroom without an expert’s identification. This mushroom contains a compound called variegatic acid which is colorless until it is exposed to oxygen. Once exposed it quickly turns blue, in this case. It can also turn red, I’ve read.

Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is also called the velvet topped fungus because of its hairy appearance. These fungi are parasitic on the roots and heartwood of living white pines in the eastern U.S. and cause root rot. They also change color as they age. If found when young as this one was it can be used to dye wool a soft yellow or orange and older examples will dye wool brown.

This is what an older dyer’s polypore looks like. As you can see the color difference between young and old examples is dramatic.  Some of these mushrooms can get quite large but this one was only about 5 inches across. Though they sometimes look as if they’re growing on the ground as this one does, they’re really growing on conifer roots or buried logs.

If you saw this growing on a fallen branch would you know what it was? I wasn’t absolutely sure until I turned it over.

I knew it was some type of shelf or bracket fungi from the back but I didn’t know it was turkey tails (Trametes versicolor.) I never knew their undersides were so pure white when they were young. When older the underside is kind of off white and full of pores. I also always thought they grew singly, but in clusters. The back view shows they’re actually all one body.

Golden pholiota (Pholiota limonella) mushrooms grew on a birch tree, which is something I’ve never seen before. In fact there are very few mushrooms that I’ve seen growing on a living birch, but these mushrooms can grow on living or dead wood. They appear in the summer and fall and usually form in large clusters. Their orange-yellow caps are slimy and covered in reddish scales. The dim morning light really brought out the golden color of these examples.

Wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) starts out as tiny pink globules but as they age and become more like what we see in the above photo. As they grow the globules look more like small puffballs growing on a log.

Wolf’s milk slime mold is also called toothpaste slime and that’s because there is a pinkish orange material inside each globule with (usually) the consistency of toothpaste. It can also have a more liquid consistency as it does here, and that’s the way I usually find it. As it ages it will turn into a mass of brown powdery spores.

Some coral fungi come to a blunt, rather than pointed end and are called club shaped corals. I thought these might be Clavariadelphus truncatus but that mushroom has wrinkles down its length and these are smooth, so I’m not sure what they are. They were no more than an inch tall.

Crown coral fungi come in many colors but I usually find the tan / white varieties. The example in this photo was as big as a baseball (about 3 inches) and had a touch of orange, which I was happy to see. The way to tell if you have a crown coral fungus is by the tips of the branches, which in crown coral look like tiny crowns rather than blunt or rounded. They grow on dead wood but if that wood is buried they can appear to be growing in soil.

Mushroom spores are carried by the wind so it is unusual to see them dropping to the forest floor like they have in the above photo. I’ve only seen this happen three times and twice it was on a still, hot, humid day. This time it was on a cooler but still humid day, without a hint of a breeze to blow the spores away.

An unusual mushroom that I’ve never paid attention to before is the black tooth fungus (Phellodon niger.) One of things that I find unusual about it is how, when they grow close enough together, their caps fuse together creating a large misshapen mass. But as this photo shows they also grow singly, as most of the ones I saw on this day did. Another odd thing about it is how the caps seem to split open on top.

On the underside of the black tooth’s cap are the black “teeth” that give it its common name. The teeth are called spines and the mushroom’s spores form on them. It’s easy to see how the spore bearing surface increases when a mushroom grows pores or spines on its cap. I’ve read that this mushroom is endangered in many countries like Switzerland and parts of the U.K. and there is a danger of its extinction in certain parts of the world. They seem to be abundant in this area.

This bracket fungus had all the makings of a dryad’s saddle (Cerioporus squamosus) except for color. Dryad’s saddle is usually brown but I can’t find any information on whether or not they start out life white before turning brown. I have seen photos of them online where they looked whitish, but that could be due to lighting or camera settings. This one was definitely white all over and as big as a saucer.

One of the things about nature study that some people seem to have trouble with is leaving things dangling, with no answers.  When I go into the woods I almost always come back with more questions than answers but quite often, sometimes even years later, the answer comes to me. The question on this day was this grouping of grayish mushrooms growing on a stump. I’ve looked through three mushroom guides and a few websites and haven’t found a single small grayish mushroom with a frayed cap edge. I was fairly sure I’d have trouble identifying them but I wanted their photo anyway, because I thought they were very pretty. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that mystery is a big part of living, and I’ve had to do so yet again.

These little white mushrooms presented another conundrum but I think they might be one called Xerula megalospora. Unfortunately I’ll probably never be 100% sure, because you need a microscope to see the big, lemon shaped spores and I don’t have one.

What leads me to think that this example might be a Xerula megalospora is how mushroom expert Michael Kuo explains that “its gills are attached to the stem by means of a notch and a tiny tooth that runs down the stem.” For me though, their beauty is more important than their name and this one was quite beautiful; even more so upside down.

There is no end to wonder once one starts really looking.― Marty Rubin

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1-ashuelot-islandsThough we’ve had a rainy day or two the drought has brought the level of the Ashuelot River down to the point where islands have appeared where they’ve never been, and they’re already covered with grasses and wildflowers. It would be quicker to walk down the middle of it than trying to navigate it in a boat. I don’t think you would even get your knees wet now, but in a normal summer it would be about waist deep here.

2-ashuelot-island-flowers

Extreme zooming showed the flowers were nodding bur marigolds (Bidens cernua.) I don’t know how they and the grasses grew on the islands so fast.

3-great-blue-heron

It’s cooling off quickly now and morning temperatures have been in the 30s and 40s, but great blue heron are still with us. They can take a lot of cold and can sometimes be seen even when there’s snow on the ground.

4-great-blue-heron

This one walked slowly into the pickerel weeds as I watched. It was nice to see one that wasn’t practicing to be a statue for a change.

5-hickory-tussock-moth-caterpillar

The hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) is black and white and can cause quite an itchy rash, from what I’ve read. The nettle like hairs can break off and stick in the skin and they are said to bother some people enough for them to be hospitalized, so it’s probably best to look and not touch this one.

6-lbms-on-log

We’ve had a poor mushroom season because of the dryness but there are occasional surprises, like these brown mushrooms colonizing a log. I think they were in the Galerina genus, which contains some of the most toxic mushrooms known including the deadly galerina (Galerina marginata.) Mushroom hunters would be wise to study them and know them well.

7-bracket-fungus

This large leathery bracket fungus grew on a tree root and looked like a well-worn saddle. I haven’t been able to identify it.

8-hen-of-the-woods-fungus-on-oak

Do mushrooms grow back in the same place year after year? Yes, some do and this convoluted bracket fungus is a good example of that. I found it at the base of a large oak tree last year and here it is again. I believe that it is hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa,) which is an edible polypore that often grows in the same spot year after year. They are said to look like the back of a brown hen’s ruffled feathers, and that’s how they come by their common name. Though they’re said to be brown I see green and my color finding software sees gray.

9-hen-of-the-woods-fungus-on-oak

Hen of the woods mushroom caps are attached to each other by short white stems. They appear at the base of oak trees in September and October and can be quite large; sometimes two feet across. In China and Japan they are used medicinally. Science has found that they contain blood sugar lowering compounds that could be beneficial in the treatment of diabetes.

10-mushroom-on-mushroom

This was a first for me; the white mushrooms were growing out of the black decaying gills of another mushroom. I’m not quite sure how to explain it.

11-jack-in-the-pulpit-berries

Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) are ripe and red, waiting for a deer to come along and eat them. Deer must love them because they usually disappear almost as soon as they turn red.

12-jack-in-the-pulpit-root

I found a Jack in the pulpit that someone had kicked over and I washed the bulbous root (corm) off in a nearby stream so we could see it. All parts of the Jack in the pulpit plant contain calcium oxalate crystals that cause painful irritation of the mouth and throat if eaten, but Native Americans knew how to cook the fleshy roots to remove any danger. They used them as a vegetable, and that’s why another name for the plant is “Indian turnip.” My father in law liked hot foods and would eat hot peppers right out of the jar, but when he bit off a small piece of this root one day he said it was the hottest thing he’d ever tasted.

13-false-solomons-seal-berries

False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) berries are fully ripe and are now bright red instead of speckled. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the drooping stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

14-yew-berry

All parts of the yew tree (Taxus) are poisonous except (it is said) the red flesh of the berry, which is actually a modified seed cone. The seed within the seed cone is the most toxic part of the plant and eating as few as 3 of them can cause death in just a few hours. In February of 2014 a man named Ben Hines died in Brockdish, Norfolk, England after ingesting parts of yew trees. Nobody has ever been able to figure out why he did such a thing but the incident illustrated how extremely toxic yews are.

15-virginia-creeper

Many birds love Virginia creeper berries (Parthenocissus quinquefolia,) including thrushes, woodpeckers, warblers, vireos, mockingbirds chickadees, and turkeys. So do mice, red fox, skunks, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer. I’ve read that birds are attracted to red fruits more than the blue black berries of Virginia creeper, so the vine compensates by having red leaves in the fall when the berries are ripe. When the birds land amidst all the attractive red hues they find and eat the berries. Since thirty five species of birds eat them it must be successful.

16-bvirginia-creeper-berries

On Virginia creeper even the flower stems (petioles) are red.

17-royal-fern

Burnt orange must be one of the most frequently seen colors in the fall and this royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis) wore it well. Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are thought to be able to live 100 years or more. They like wet feet and grow along stream and river banks in low, damp areas.

18-sensitive-fern

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) gets its common name from early colonials, who noticed that it was very sensitive to frost. Usually by this time of year these ferns would be brown and crisp from frost but since we haven’t had a real frost yet this year this example is slowly turning white. In my experience it’s unusual to see this particular fern doing this. Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) do the same each fall and are usually the only white fern that we see. This is only the second time I’ve seen a sensitive fern do this.

19-burning-bush

Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) almost makes up for its invasiveness by showing beautiful colors like these each fall, but Its sale and importation is banned here in New Hampshire now because of the way it can take over whole swaths of forest floor. Ironically not that many years ago though, homeowners were encouraged to plant it by the state, which touted its attractiveness to birds and other wildlife. The saying “Be careful what you wish for” comes to mind.

20-virgins-bower-leaf

The crinkly leaves of Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) continue to turn purple. Despite its being toxic enough to cause internal bleeding this native vine was called was called “pepper vine” by early pioneers because they used it as a pepper substitute when they couldn’t get the real thing. Native Americans used clematis to treat migraine headaches and nervous disorders, and for skin infections.

21-poison-ivy

Speaking of toxic plants, poison ivy is putting on its fall show. It’s often one of the most colorful plants on the forest floor but no matter the leaf color they’re still toxic, and so are the stems that they grow on. I usually get a rash on my knees in early spring by kneeling on the leafless vines to take photos of wildflowers. Luckily I’m not that sensitive to it, but I know people who have been hospitalized because of it.

The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer. ~George R.R. Martin

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