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Posts Tagged ‘Honeycomb Coral Slime Mold’

Last Friday I cut wood for most of the afternoon at work and come Saturday morning I wasn’t feeling very agile, so I decided to take an easy, gentle and very beautiful walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene. I think I must have been about 10 years old the first time I walked this trail and it has been one of my favorite places to go ever since. You really never know what you’ll see here and I think 9 times out of 10 I come back surprised at what I’ve seen.

The biggest surprise of this day was a few clumps of yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) growing on the river bank. I’ve searched for this plant for many years and found it only in one other spot in the woods by a pond that was very difficult to get to, but now here it is, right out in the open. This iris is a native of Europe and was introduced in the mid-1800s as a garden plant. Of course it escaped and began to naturalize and was reported near Poughkeepsie, New York in 1868 and in Concord, Massachusetts in 1884. Today it considered highly invasive and its sale and distribution is banned in New Hampshire, though in my experience it is a rarity in this part of the state. It’s a beautiful flower but now I do wonder what the banks of the river might look like 50 years from now if the plants are left alone.

In places the riverside trail is about 4 people wide but most of it is more like 2 people wide. Though I have no proof I believe the original trail is thousands of years old; once used by the Native Americans who used to fish, hunt and camp here. Natives were known to populate the Keene area and a little further upriver a school was built a few years ago and many Native artifacts estimated to be somewhere near 12,000 years old were found.

American water horehound (Lycopus americanus,) with its purple leaves, grew along the bank of the river. An interesting fact about this plant is how the Native American Iroquois tribe considered it poisonous, but the Cherokees used it to treat snakebite in both people and dogs. Usually I find that a plant used medicinally by one tribe was used in much the same way by other tribes, but not this one. In modern times it is used by herbalists to treat a variety of ailments including anxiety and insomnia.

A hoverfly found an ox-eye daisy very inviting. One of its wings seemed a little skewed but it looked like it could fly with no problems.

Like the ribs of an ancient sunken ship the branches of a fallen tree rose up out of the river. I read recently that in June 24, 1819 the New Hampshire legislature granted permission for the river, from this point south to where it meets the Connecticut River, to be dredged for steamboat travel. A toll on the steamers would be no more than 50 cents per ton of weight. Locks were built and in November of 1819 the first steamer 60 feet long and capable of carrying 15 to 20 tons, arrived in Keene. The venture seemed promising for a few years but the arrival of the railroad finally dashed the hopes of those wanting to see steamboats traveling the Ashuelot. Thanks goes to Alan Rumrill, director of the Cheshire County Historical Society, for this interesting bit of historical knowledge. If I saw a riverboat floating on the Ashuelot today I think I’d have to be revived.

Recent rains and high humidity helped a slime mold to grow on a well-rotted log. This slime mold is called coral slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. porioides) and it loves to grow on rotted logs after a rain.

Coral slime mold is a plasmodial slime, which means that it 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. They then shift from the growth stage to the fruiting stage. Slime molds die if they dry out, so most of this usually occurs at night or on damp, humid days after a rain. One of the most fascinating things about slime molds is how they move. They are thought of as a giant single cell with multiple nuclei which can all move together as one at speeds of up to an inch per hour. 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 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 really quite amazing.

My daughter was with me on this day and she found a broken robin’s egg, so I’m guessing that mom and dad are keeping very busy these days. If what I’ve read is accurate they will feed the young until they learn how to feed themselves. That could take as long as a month.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) blossomed along the river. You can just see the tiny, almost microscopic wisps of whitish flowers at the pointed ends of some of the upper spiky protrusions (perigynia.) This plant is also called bottlebrush sedge, for obvious reasons. It’s very common near water and waterfowl and some songbirds love its seeds.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) started blooming a while ago. This plant has a very long blooming period; I see them in early June blooming profusely and then sporadically through the following months, even into November. I usually find more of them in waste places but I see them just about everywhere I go. It is considered a pioneer species, meaning it is one of the first plants to grow in unused pastures, or cleared or burned areas. Woodchucks and rabbits will eat the leaves and stems. Native Americans made a tea from the plant which was used as medicine for digestive ailments. Fleabanes get their name from the way the dried plants repel fleas.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) was getting ready to blossom in sunnier spots. I don’t suppose many people have seen a deer’s tongue but I have and the leaves of this grass really do look like one, so it’s a perfect name for the plant. This is a very course, tough grass that is common in waste areas, roadsides and forest edges. It can be very beautiful when its leaves change in the fall; sometimes maroon, deep purple or yellow, and sometimes multiple colors on one leaf.

Invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) grew everywhere out here and in this shot it is growing up a dead tree. I just featured this rose in my last flower post so I won’t say much about it, other than its fragrance was astounding.

Insects love multiflora rose and that is the problem with its invasiveness, because birds love the rose hips that pollinated flowers produce. But just try to stop it; the genie is out of the bottle and there is no stopping it or any of the other invasive plants that are in this country.

Luckily invasive plants haven’t choked out all of our natives. Here was a large colony of Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana,) all in bloom.

The 3 large styles of Indian cucumber root darken as they age. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry. Native Americans used Indian cucumber roots as food. As its common name implies, this plant’s small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber.

It was a beautiful day to be on the river, but the big puffy clouds in the distance reminded me that there was a chance of a real old fashioned thunderstorm. When I was a boy our house had a covered porch and I used to love sitting on it and watching thunderstorms as they rumbled by. I don’t have a porch now but I still love a good summer thunderstorm.

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes. There were quite a few growing in this part of the river where the water was so still it hardly moved at all.

The little red bridge is my signal to turn and go back because not too far after it is a highway full of cars. Both my daughter and I were surprised by the time. What seemed like a relatively short walk had taken us hours, but that’s what happens when you become lost in the beauty of nature and start discovering things that you’ve never seen before; time is a very easy thing to forget.

My favorite photo of this day was of what I think is American eelgrass (Vallisneria Americana.) I love the hypnotizing way it moves and undulates in the current of the river. It is also called tape grass and water celery, and it is an important food for turtles and other aquatic wildlife.

The song of the river ends not at her banks, but in the hearts of those who have loved her.
~ Buffalo Joe

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We’ve had a lot of rain here in southwestern New Hampshire over the last two weeks and all of the sudden the dark places in the forests are showing some color.

 1. Orange Mushroom

There is a mushroom called Caesar’s mushroom (Amanita caesarea,) so why shouldn’t there be one called false Caesar’s mushroom (Amanita parcivolvata)? I think that’s what this one is but even after reading through three mushroom guide books I’m still not 100% sure.

 2. Purple Edged Bracket Fungi

 Violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis) looks a little like turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor,) and I’m fairly certain that I have misidentified it as such here on this blog. Once you get to know the two though, it’s obvious that the purple edges on these are not found on turkey tails. I wish I had taken a photo of the undersides of these as well because it is supposed to be a beautiful lilac purple color and that’s something I’ve never noticed before.

 3. Slug on a Mushroom

A slug was feeding on this mushroom.

 4. Snail Shell

I know that slugs and snails are two different critters but there was a perfectly good shell sitting empty on this leaf that the slug in the previous photo might have been happy to have known about.

5. Unknown Wasp

There is a wasp called the cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus,) but I’m not sure if this is one because their yellow stripes seem to be wider than those on this example. I’m also not sure if the other insect is a cicada. As I was putting this post together I heard about a wasp that is being considered to provide biological control of the emerald ash borer. Emerald ash borers kill ash trees and we have an infestation of them here in New Hampshire but again, I don’t know if the wasp in the photo has killed one or not. This photo asks more questions than it answers, so I’m hoping that someone reading this will be able to answer them.

 6. Indian Pipes

I’ve never seen as many Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) as I have this year, including some very large colonies of them. My guess is they love heat, humidity and rain-all of which we’ve had plenty of lately.

 7. Horsehair Mushrooms on Tree

 Horsehair mushrooms (Marasmius rotula) fruit on rotting wood, but I found these growing on the base of a living tree. These tiny mushrooms have caps no bigger than the diameter of a pea that sit on black stalks that are half the diameter of a pencil lead. They like dark, moist places and can be very tough to get a good photo of.

8. Tiny Brown Mushroom

The pine needles scattered around this mushroom show just how small it is. Xeromphalina cauticinalis mushrooms fruit on debris found under conifers, and that’s just where this one was growing. This mushroom is supposed to be a western species that is only occasionally found in the east.

 9. White Honeycomb Slime Mold

You can tell that it has been rainy, hot and humid when slime molds start to appear. Despite the name slime molds aren’t molds and they aren’t always slimy. Unfortunately, though everybody argues about what they aren’t, nobody seems to know exactly what they are. The easiest way for me to think of them is as a single celled organism like an amoeba, with thousands of nuclei.

No matter how you choose to classify them, slime molds can be very beautiful things, as the honeycomb coral slime mold (Ceratiomyxa  fruticulosa  var. porioides) in the above photo shows. When conditions are right and food is running low this organism will produce the white honeycomb shapes seen in the photo. They do this prior to fruiting, which is when they create the spores needed to reproduce. Without magnification this slime mold looks like a white smudge on a log and is far too small for me to see in any great detail. I’m always surprised when I finally see what is in the photos.

10. White Finger Slime Mold

White finger slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. fruticulosa) is a good description of the way this slime mold appears. It’s hard to relate just how small these are, but in each ‘finger” would be less than the diameter of a toothpick, and in length possibly 1/16th of an inch. As if that didn’t make photographing them tough enough sunlight is an enemy of slime molds, so they are only found in very dark places like the undersides of logs.

 11. Yellow Slime Mold with Sow Bug

This sow bug, which also called a wood louse, helps show just how small slime molds are.

 12. Many Headed Slime Mold

 Many headed slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) likes decaying organic matter like leaves and logs because this is where it finds its food supply of bacteria, yeasts, mushroom spores and microbes. The slime mold in the photo is in a vegetative phase called plasmodium, which is when it can move by ”streaming ” at about 1 millimeter per hour. The plasmodium is made up of networks of protoplasmic veins and many nuclei which move to seek out food. Once it finds something it likes it surrounds it and secretes enzymes to digest it.

Only spread a fern-frond over a man’s head and worldly cares are cast out, and freedom and beauty and peace come in.  ~John Muir

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