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Posts Tagged ‘Many Headed Slime Mold’

It’s so hot and humid here right now my camera lenses fog up the minute I take them from the dry, cool air of the car into the jungle humid air outside. If there’s one thing that can destroy a camera it is condensation so I’ve put together another “Things I’ve seen” post using all the photos that didn’t fit in other blog posts. Ten years ago I had never seen a Luna moth but on the day I took the  photo above there must have been at least 8 of them on a white painted block wall where I work. These moths are big and easy to see and I’ve read that Luna moths are one of the largest moths in North America, sometimes having a wingspan of as much as 4 1/2 inches. They are beautiful, with a white body, pinkish legs, and pale lime green wings. In northern regions the moth lives for only 7 days and produces only one generation, while in the south they can live for as long as 11 weeks and produce three generations.

Another moth I’ve never seen is this one. Until this year that is; now I’m seeing them everywhere. They’re relatively large as moths go and you would think they’d be easy to identify but I haven’t had much luck so far. I can picture it landing on a tree and disappearing completely.

I was told it was a sphinx moth and I think that’s accurate, but if you Google “sphinx moth with blue eyes on its hind wing you get the eyed hawk moth, but that one only lives in Europe and the U.K., so that can’t be it. But it really doesn’t matter. I just wanted you to see it and to see this view of it, which reminds me of a blue eyed baboon face. I’m guessing it might scare away a bird.

Long time readers of this blog know that I don’t “do” birds and insects because of colorblindness but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy seeing and hearing them and trying to get photos of them to show you. My identification skills aren’t as sharp as I’d like them to be when it comes to insects especially, but I think this dragonfly might be a slaty skimmer. It has a dark blue body that looks gray to me, and a black head. Females and juveniles are said to have a dark stripe down their backs so I’m assuming this must be a male. If I’m wrong I hope you’ll let me know, because I’m seeing lots of them right now.

I’m also seeing damselflies and this one landed right in front of me one morning, so I had to take its photo. Though I don’t see any blue I think it might be a blue tailed damselfly because of its other markings. The chances of being correct with my identification are vey slim however, so again I hope you’ll let me know if I’m wrong.

When I was a boy we called this foamy stuff on plant stems “snake spit,” but of course it isn’t any such thing. Instead it’s really the protective foam used by spittle bug nymphs and has nothing to do with snakes. The nymphs use it to make themselves invisible to predators and to keep themselves from drying out. They make the foamy mass by dining on plant sap and secreting a watery liquid which they whip up with air to create the froth. There’s no telling where a boy’s imagination might take him, but quite often the real story is even more amazing than the imagined one.

One rainy morning a bumblebee hid under a leaf to keep dry, but it wasn’t working.

As I’ve said many times on this blog, spring starts on the forest floor and so does fall. By the time we see the colorful tree leaves many leaves have already put on their fall colors in the understory, among them those of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa,) which are some of the earliest. It marks the passage of time and though I like to see what their turning leaves will look like this year, I’m not ready to see them just yet. It seems like spring was just a few weeks ago.

Timothy grass (Phleum pretense) was brought to North America by early settlers and was first found in New Hampshire in 1711 by John Hurd. A farmer named Timothy Hanson began promoting cultivation of it as a hay crop about 1720 and the grass has carried his name ever since.

If you happen to be a nature lover and not watching for flowering grasses you’re missing a big chunk of the beauty that nature has to offer. Timothy grass flowers from June until September and is noted for its cold and drought resistance. It’s an excellent hay crop for horses. Each tall flower head is filled with tiny florets, each one with three purple stamens and two wispy white stigmas. The flower heads often look purple when they are flowering.

I saw this Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum) growing in a local garden. Native to eastern Asia, these ferns often display hints of silver, blue and red on their stems and leaflets and their common name comes from the way they look like the colors have been painted on.  

I think, in the almost nine years I’ve been doing this blog, that this is only the second time I’ve been able to show you the red fruit of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa,) and that’s because the birds eat them as soon as they ripen. Why they left these alone is a mystery. The berries are said to be toxic but they were cooked and eaten by Native Americans so I’m sure they knew how to cook them in such a way as to remove the toxicity. They also used them medicinally. Red elderberry is one of two elderberries native to New Hampshire. The other is the common or black elderberry (Sambucus nigra V. canadensis) which has black berries and isn’t toxic.

I’ve read that large amounts of water will cause deformation in chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius) and I often see them looking that way. From the side chanterelles look like trumpets, but so do many other mushrooms including the false chanterelle. That’s why mushrooms should never be eaten unless you are absolutely sure you know what you’re eating. Chanterelle mushrooms are considered a delicacy but I’ve had mushroom experts tell me that you can never be 100% sure of a mushroom’s identity without examining its spores under a microscope. Since I don’t have a microscope that means you can never be sure of my identifications either, so please don’t eat any mushroom you see here until you have an expert examine it first. There are mushrooms so toxic that one or two bites have killed. We have mushroom walks led by an expert or experts here. If you want to become serious about mushroom foraging they are a good place to start.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) have just started appearing, pushing up through the forest litter. They’re not mushrooms but they like dark forests and plenty of moisture just like mushrooms, so when I go mushroom hunting I usually find them as well. These plants slowly turn their single bell shaped flower from looking at the ground to looking straight up to the sky, and that is the sign that they’ve been pollinated. From then on they will turn brown as the spores ripen. They are also called ghost plants. Fresh stems contain a gel that Native Americans used to treat eye problems. The common name comes from the plant’s shape, which is said to resemble the pipes that the Natives smoked.

I found a cluster of what I believe are resinous polypores (Ischnoderma resinosum) growing on a dying tree. The sharp eyed will notice that they’re in full sunshine. That might seem strange because everyone knows that mushrooms like to grow in deep shade, but what not everybody knows is how almost everything growing in a forest will get its moment in the sun, even if it is just a single shaft of sunlight falling on it for a few minutes at the end of the day. On this day I just happened to come along while these fungi were having their moment in the sun.  

The whitish underside of this mushroom will quickly turn brown if bruised, but these were pristine. Polypores get their name from the pores on their undersides. The pores are actually tubes where the spores are produced, and they are the fungi’s way of increasing the spore bearing surfaces. More surface area means more spores produced, and it’s always about the continuation of the species. The life force; the will to live, is strong in all living things and billions of spores ensure that there will be more resinous polypores.

One of the odd things about these particular example of resinous polypores were how they grew on a standing tree. The tree was close to dead but this fungus usually grows on recently fallen hard or softwood log, where it causes white rot that separates the annual rings in the wood. Though it often appears in summer another name is the late fall polypore.  Drops of a reddish brown liquid often appear on it in rainy weather, as this photo shows. Resinous polypores are considered edible but once again I’m not a mycologist and don’t have a microscope, so if you are going to eat this mushroom you should learn how to identify it from an expert.

Chocolate tube slime molds get their common name from their long brown sporangia, which stand at the top of thin black, horsehair like stalks. They typically grow in clusters on rotting wood and are found on every continent on earth except Antarctica. They are also called “pipe cleaner slime molds” or “tree hair.” There are thought to be about 18 species which can only be accurately identified with a microscope. Some can be quite long and look like sea anemones, but these examples were short; about a half inch long. They start life as a white plasmodial mass before becoming a cluster of small yellow bumps, and they in turn grow into what you see here. They do remind me of undersea coral.

In this photo you can see why chocolate tube slime mold is also called “tree hair.” The wiry black stalks do indeed look like horsehair.

All the rain, heat and humidity we’ve had means perfect conditions for slime molds. I found this example searching for food on last year’s leaves. Through a process called cytoplasmic streaming slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Scarcity of food is what drives them on, always searching for bacteria and yeasts to feed on. As this photo shows, slime mold plasmodium can be a mass of glistening vein-like material (actually a single-celled amoeba) that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil. I think this example might be the many headed slime (Physarum polycephalum.)

Here’s a closer look at a smaller version of the slime mold in the previous photo, which was on the same leaf. Science seems to think that slime molds have a limited intelligence, and that thought opens doors that I didn’t know existed.

The world is as large as I let it be. Each step I take into the unknown reveals a thousand more steps of possibility. Earth may not be growing but my world certainly does with each step I take. ~Avina Celeste

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Mushrooms are 90-95% water and since we’ve had plenty of rain they’re popping up literally everywhere I go right now. When mushrooms appear you can’t dilly dally like you can with flowers; you’ve got to get to them relatively quickly, because animals like deer and squirrels will eat all they find in a matter of hours. What mushrooms animals don’t eat slugs and molds will. Nothing is wasted in nature and everything gets eaten in one way or another eventually, like the mushrooms in this photo; mold had started to cover them before they could even release their spores.

Here are a couple of slugs eating this mushroom; a common sight. Mushrooms don’t stay around long, so I’ve been in the woods every chance I had to get the photos that follow. I show them here not so you’ll run out and pick mushrooms to eat, but simply so you can see what is happening in the woods right now, and so you can enjoy their beauty as much as I do.

A jelly fungus called Calocera cornea covered this log. This tiny fungus appears on barkless, hardwood logs after heavy rains. The fruiting bodies are cylindrical like a finger coral fungus and it looks like a coral fungus, but microscopic inspection has shown it to be a jelly fungus. This photo shows only part of what covered this log. The huge numbers of what looked like tiny yellow flames licking out of the log was quite a sight.

Calocera cornea is called the small staghorn fungus, for obvious reasons. Each fruit body comes to a sharp looking point.

These are a good example of a coral fungus called spindle or finger corals (Clavulinopsis fusiformis.) They look quite different from the jelly fungus we just saw. The taller ones might reach an inch and a half high and their diameter is close to 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. One fact helpful in identifying these yellow finger coral mushrooms is that they always grow in tight clusters, while look alikes do not.

There are many types of coral fungi in the woods at this time of year. They can be very hard to identify without a microscopic look at the spores but I think this one might be cockscomb or crested coral (Clavulina coralloides.) Crested corals have branches that end in sharp tips and these tips will often turn brown. I don’t see these as often as I do other types of coral fungi.

I’ve seen photos online of slime molds very similar to this one but the people who took the photos didn’t have any more luck identifying it than I did. For now all I can say is that it is a white slime mold, possibly a Physarum, in the plasmodium stage. I should also say that I had to use a flash for many of these photos because of the cloudy days and forest darkness. This plasmodial slime mold, like many others, moves using cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate nuclei until they come together in a single mass, when they shift from the growth to the fruiting stage.

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. They can also climb as they have on this tree.

As slime molds go, this many headed slime (Physarum polycephalum) is usually large and easy to see. This one covered a beech log. 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 quite amazing.

People will tell you that there aren’t any blue slime molds but I tend to believe what I see over what people tell me so here is a blue slime mold that I’ve seen each year for the past three. These tiny things are so small all I can see is their color, like a blue smudge on a log. I can’t see any real detail by eye, so I have to let the camera see for me-quite literally “shooting in the dark.” From this blue stage they go on to become white.

We go from the tiny to the huge; this tree stump was about 7 feet tall and was absolutely covered with oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus.) The fallen part of the tree was also covered with them. I’ve never seen so many growing together.

Oyster mushrooms are pure white and seem to always grow in overlapping clusters like those in the photo. Oyster mushrooms have off center stems that usually grow out of the side of the log and are hidden by the cap when seen from above. That little insect might want to be careful; scientists discovered in 1986 that oyster mushrooms “exude extracellular toxins that stun [nematode] worms, whereupon the mycelium invades its body through its orifices.” What this means is that oyster mushrooms are actually carnivorous. They also consume bacteria (Pseudomonas and Agrobacterium) in order to get nitrogen and protein.

I’ve read that large amounts of water will cause deformation in chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius) and I wonder if that’s what is going on here. We have certainly had a lot of rain lately. Chanterelle mushrooms are considered a delicacy.

From the side chanterelles look like trumpets, but so do many other mushrooms including the false chanterelle. That’s why mushrooms should never be eaten unless you are absolutely sure you know what you’re eating. I’ve had mushroom experts tell me that you can never be 100% sure of a mushroom’s identity without examining its spores under a microscope. Since I don’t have a microscope that means you can never be sure of my identifications either, so please don’t eat any mushroom you see here until you have an expert examine it first. There are mushrooms so toxic that one or two bites have killed. We have mushroom walks led by an expert or experts here. If you want to become serious about mushroom foraging they are a good place to start.

If they’re small, sticky and orange with bell shaped caps and grow on a cluster on a log they must be orange mycena mushrooms (Mycena leaiana.) These little (less than an inch across) mushrooms fruit from June through September and are fairly common. If you touch them the orange color will stain your fingers. Mycena mushrooms also come in bright red, pink and purple. Some also bleed a blood colored latex when cut.

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.

Considering the weather we’ve had red hot milk caps (Lactarius rufus) seem appropriate. Milk caps get their name from the white milky latex they exude, which is said to be extremely hot and acrid. Though it looks like it has a ring on the stem just under the cap in this photo I think that must be slug damage to the stem itself, because this mushroom has no ring. Of course, I could also be wrong about its name.

To see very small things you need to re-train your eyes. (And your mind, somewhat) Jelly babies (Leotia lubrica) are what led me down that path years ago. 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. Each one in this group was smaller than a pea.

My Mushroom books don’t say much about club shaped fungi but I think this might be Clavaria ornatipes. This fungus is described as spatula or club shaped and greyish to pinkish gray. These fungi shrivel when they dry out and revive after a rain. They grew directly out of the ground and there were hundreds of them.

I’ve seen little orange mushrooms all over the place and they all seem to differ slightly is size, shape and color intensity. I think these might be chanterelle wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe cantharellus.) This type of mushroom is considered one of the most colorful and also one of the most aesthetically pleasing, according to mushroom identification books. One of my books even has them on its cover. I have to agree; they even look good broken.

What I think are horsehair parachute mushrooms (Marasmius androsaceus) look a lot like their cousins the tiny little pinwheel mushrooms (Marasmius capillaris,) except for the dark spot in the center of the cap. These mushrooms grow on leaf litter on the forest floor and help break down all the debris that falls from the trees. They usually grow in large groups but are so small many don’t see them. The caps on the largest of these might reach pea size on a good day.

By far the biggest mushroom that I’ve ever seen is Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi.) I put a quarter above and to the right of the center of this one so you could get an idea of how big this monster was. It must have been 2 feet across at its widest point. This mushroom grows at the base of hardwoods in the east and in the west a similar example, Bondarzewia montana, grows at the base of conifers.

If you happen to see a mushroom that looks like it stuck its finger in a light socket you’re probably seeing something rarely seen. Called a “mycoparasitic mucorale,” Syzygites megalocarpes pin mold has been found on about 65 different mushrooms, but it will only appear when the temperature and humidity are absolutely what it considers perfect. It has multi branched sporangiophores that make the mushrooms it attacks look like it is having a bad hair day. This pin mold can appear overnight and starts off bright yellow, but as it ages it becomes paler until finally turning a blue gray color. It looks on the whitish side in this photo because I had to use a flash. It’s best not to get too close to these molds because inhaling their spores can make you very sick.

That’s all I have for mushrooms right now and for most of you that’s probably more than enough. I’m sorry for putting so many photos in this post but once you get bitten by the mushroom bug you can’t seem to stop looking for them, always hoping you’ll see something as adorable as these butter wax caps (Hygrocybe ceracea.) I hope you find all of them as beautiful as I do but if not I hope you will at least find them as interesting. I also hope you’ll see some of them for yourself.

Wild mushrooms and carpets of moss and bumblebees turning figure eights in the slashes of sun in the woods, as if they too are stupefied by the beauty of the place. ~Smith Henderson

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I think since March we’ve had one completely dry week and that was last week. Other than that we’ve had at least one rainy day every week, and sometimes as much as 4 inches of rain has fallen in that one day. Parts of the state have seen flooding and roads have been washed away, but so far in this part of the state we seem to be weathering the storms quite well. All that water means waves in the Ashuelot River though, so I was able to practice my wave photography skills. I try to catch them just as they curl, as this one was.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) blossomed along the Ashuelot. 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.

All the rain means a great mushroom season is upon us. The American Caesar mushroom (Amanita jacksonii) starts out bright orangey red and then turns to orange or yellow. Its flesh is white and its gills are bright yellow. It is said to be the American version of the European Caesar mushroom (Amanita caesarea,) which got its common name by being a favorite food of early Roman rulers. This mushroom is closely related to the toxic fly agaric and the deadly death cap and destroying angel mushrooms, so great care should be taken with identification before it is eaten.

Violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis) looks a little like the 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. I see this pretty fungus rarely enough to always forget to peek underneath.

Elderberry flowers have been successfully pollinated and are slowly becoming berries, but at this stage the big flower heads look like star charts.

All the rain, heat and humidity we’ve had means perfect conditions for slime molds. I found this example searching for food on a fallen branch. Through a process called cytoplasmic streaming slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Scarcity of food is what drives them on, always searching for bacteria and yeasts to feed on. As this photo shows, slime mold plasmodium can be a mass of glistening vein-like material (actually a single-celled amoeba) that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil. I think this example might be the many headed slime (Physarum polycephalum.)

Here is another form that shape shifting slime molds can take. I believe this is the plasmodium stage of egg shell slime mold (Leocarpus fragilis.) In one stage of their life cycle these slime molds have a brittle outer shell that cracks and fractures like an eggshell. They will mature and become dry and turn first brown, and then gray. Blackish spores will be produced. Eggshell slime molds like to hang out on pine needles logs, stumps, and sometimes will even appear on living plants.

Spotting slime molds from a distance isn’t that hard if you know what to look for and where to look. It’s important to remember that hot sunlight dries them out, so they’ll be on the shaded sides and undersides of logs, on stumps, mossy rocks, and in the leaves on the forest floor in the darkest part of the forest where the soil stays moist. I look for what look to me like white or colored smudges. The closer you get to the smudge the easier it is to see detail, as this photo from about 3 feet away shows.

Here’s a closer look at the slime mold in the previous photo. I think it might be coral or white fingered slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.) Most good mushroom books will include a section on slime molds that can help identify some of the most common ones, but uncommon slime molds can be very hard to identify.

A juvenile male widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) landed on a grass seed head for a few seconds. I think it’s a juvenile male because the females don’t have white wing markings and adult males have a whitish blue body.  The luctuosa part of the scientific name means sorrowful or mournful and it is thought that it might be because the darker wing markings make them look like they are draped in mourning crepe.

I haven’t seen a single monarch butterfly yet this year but I’ve seen a few of the other large butterflies, like this eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).  Butterflies can absorb minerals and salts from the soil and I think that’s what this one was doing. It’s called puddling.

This eastern tiger swallowtail found a tasty heal all plant (Prunella vulgaris) to snack on.

I thought that this stunning creature was a butterfly when I first saw it on the grass in a lawn but after some research I found that it was a virgin tiger moth (Grammia virgo.) It is a large, butterfly sized moth and I’ve read that its hindwing color can vary from yellow to scarlet. Unfortunately they can’t be seen in this photo. The larvae feed on various low growing plants, which is apparently why I found it in a lawn. Though there are countless photos of this moth online there is very little information on it. It is certainly one of the prettiest moths I’ve seen.

I’ve been checking milkweed plants for signs of monarch butterflies but so far all I’ve seen are red milkweed beetles (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus.) These beetles eat milkweed plants and absorb its toxins much like monarch butterflies do and this and their red color keeps predators away. I’ve read that milkweed beetles squeak when they’re feeding on milkweed, but I saw hundreds and didn’t hear a single peep out of any of them. The ancient Greeks called this insect four eyes because of the way their antennae bisect and seem to grow out of their eyes.

Timothy grass was unintentionally brought to North America by early settlers and was first found in New Hampshire in 1711 by John Hurd. A farmer named Timothy Hanson began to promote cultivation of it as a hay crop about 1720, and the grass has been called Timothy ever since. Timothy-grass (Phleum pratense) flowers from June until September and is noted for its resistance to cold and drought.

Timothy grass is an excellent hay crop for horses but what I like most about it is its flowers. Each flower head is filled with tiny florets, each with three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. This one wasn’t showing the purple stamens so I might have been too early. Quite often the heads look completely purple when they bloom. The example shown does show the tiny, feather like female stigmas. Flowering grasses can be very beautiful and I hope more people will stop and take a look at them.

If you want purple in your grass it’s hard to beat purple top grass (Tridens flavus cupreus.) This is a perennial grass that can get 3-5 feet tall. It likes to grow in disturbed soil and I see it along field and forest edges. I’ve tried for several years to get the camera to see what I see when I look at purple grasses but the photos were never accurate until I discovered the secret just recently, and that is taking the photo just after sunset when the light is still bright but there is no direct sunlight on the grass heads. There is also less wind to blow them around at that time of day as well.

I actually learned the secret of purple grasses last year when I was taking photos of purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis,) but it didn’t click in my mind until this year. As a nature photographer you never stop learning, and nature itself is often the best teacher. You try and try and then try again, and eventually you hit on the right light, or the right background, or the right perspective and then finally you have it, and then you can show the plant or any other bit of nature at its best. In my line of thought, this is how you get people interested enough to want to get out there and see nature for themselves; by showing it at its most beautiful. This beautiful little shin-high grass grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its purple flower heads will eventually turn a tannish color and break off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall.

When the tiny green flowers of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) have been pollinated they become fuzzy red berries, but before that they go through a fuzzy purple stage, as can be seen in the above photo. I’ve never seen this before this year, probably because I wasn’t paying attention. Native Americans made a kind of lemonade from these berries and they can also be dried and ground to be used as a lemony flavored spice.

The black willows (Salix nigra) along the Ashuelot River have gone to seed. Willows have been used medicinally for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks made willow bark tea to ease the pain of stiff joints and headaches and to reduce fevers, and Native Americans used the plant in the same way. Willows are so useful for pain relief because they contain a compound called salicylic acid. The acetylsalicylic acid found in aspirin is a synthetic version of it. Willows like wet feet and usually grow on the banks of ponds and rivers.

The blue of blue bead lily berries (Clintonia borealis) is quite different from the blue of blueberries; what I call electric blue. The seeds in these berries can take two years to germinate and adult plants can take twelve years to finally show their yellow, lily like blossoms. This plant is also called “cow tongue” because of the shape of its leaves. Deer, chipmunks and many other animals and birds love the berries and I often have trouble finding them because they get eaten so fast. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat burns and infections, and bears are said to be attracted to its root.

What I believe is a male slaty skimmer (Libellula incesta) is easily one of the most beautiful dragonflies I’ve seen. Its deep indigo blue color isn’t seen often in nature, but the blue bead lily berries do come close. I actually thought this dragonfly was black when I was taking its photo from several feet away and didn’t realize it had such a beautiful color until I saw the photo.  Nature is full of surprises, and that’s one reason I’m outside as often as possible. I just love seeing things like this that I’ve never seen.

Nearness to nature keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt and in touch with the unseen powers. ~Charles Eastman

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1. Many Headed Slime

We haven’t had much rain here this summer but all it takes is a thundershower, a good hot day and plenty of humidity to get slime molds on the move. And they really do move; through a process called cytoplasmic streaming slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Scarcity of food is what drives them on, always searching for bacteria and yeasts to feed on. As this photo shows slime mold plasmodium is a mass of glistening vein-like material (actually a single-celled amoeba) that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil. I think this might be the many-headed slime (Physarum polycephalum.)

2. Many Headed  Slime

I think this might also be the many headed slime (Physarum polycephalum,) even though it looks quite different than the previous example. When slime molds run out of food and come together into a mass like that pictured above, individual cells change their shape and can form stalks that are capped by fruiting bodies. A fruiting body can look like a jellybean or sphere, or can sometimes resemble blackberries, hair, dripping wax, and just about any other shape imaginable. The fruiting bodies produce spores that are borne on the wind and which will create new slime molds.

3. Slime Mold

How big are slime molds? It varies, but tiny is usually a good description. I always carry my glasses and a loupe when I’m looking for them.

4. Slime Mold

Some slime molds can grow big enough to be seen without too much difficulty. When the weather is right I look for what appear to be white or colored smudges on logs, leaves, or even mossy stones. Slime molds seem to grow on just about anything; there is even a photo online of one engulfing a beer can that was left out on a rock. They almost always grow on the side away from the sun because they don’t want to dry out. This one was growing on the top of a well-rotted log and that tells me that this log doesn’t see much sunlight.

5. White Finger Slime

If you want to photograph slime molds you’d better have a macro lens. What is seen in this photo wouldn’t have even covered Abe Lincoln’s head on a penny. I think it might be white finger slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, variety fruticulosa.) Identifying slime molds can be tricky, but most good mushroom books will include a section on them and there are a few good online resources as well.

 6. White Slime on Rock

The secret to finding slime molds is to walk very slowly and keep your eyes to the ground, scanning right and left as you go. I almost walked right by this one growing on a mossy boulder. Comparing it to the leaves and pine needles shows how small it was.

7. White Slime on Rock Possible Didymium iridis

Looking through a macro lens shows the individual bodies of the slime mold on the stone in the previous photo. I’ve never seen this one but I think it might be Didymium iridis. If it is each tiny body grows on top of a hair thin black stalk. Calcium carbonate crystals give the fruiting bodies a light bluish, powdery appearance.

8. Unknown

This organism has me completely baffled. I first saw one last year and it reminded me of a mass of tangled fishing line. This year I stumbled onto a spot where many of them grew in the leaf litter on the forest floor. Each mass was about pear size.

9. Unknown 2

This is a closer look at the whatever-it-is in the previous photo. I don’t know if it’s a slime mold or fungus and haven’t been able to find a photo or description of anything similar. I keep forgetting to feel it and tug on one of the many threads.

10. Wolf's Milk Slime Mold

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 the globules look more like small puffballs growing on a log.

I think there are actually two slime molds in this photo. The two small black-brown shiny spheres could be Trichia decipiens, which are often found mixed in with other slime molds.

11. Wolf's Milk Slime Mold

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

12. Scrambled Egg Slime Mold

One of the most common slime molds is the scrambled egg slime (Fuligo septica.) It gets quite big and will grow in full sun on wood mulch or chips, so it is easily seen and is often people’s first introduction to slime molds. Fuligo also septica produces the largest spore-producing structure of any known slime mold.

13. Lindbladia tubulina Slime Mold

I wasn’t sure if this was a slime mold or not but I found some similar examples on line that said they were Lindbladia tubulina slime mold, which apparently has no common name. This one was somewhere between gunmetal gray and black, and about as big as a pear. It is described as cushion shaped and likes to grow on dead conifers, just as this one was doing.

14. Lindbladia tubulina Slime Mold

A close look at the surface of Lindbladia tubulina shows thousands of tiny shiny spheres. The outside was crusty but inside where the spores are produced is said to be spongy and yellow or olive green. This type of surface is said to be bullate, which means “covered with rounded swellings like blisters.”

15. Unknown

I don’t really know if this was a slime mold, fungus, or something else but since blue is my favorite color I was happy to see it. It was about as big as a penny.

Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain. ~Henry David Thoreau

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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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I showed two or three examples of slime molds in an earlier post but since then I’ve been seeing them everywhere and have to do something with all the photos, so here they are. Slime molds fascinate me because of their almost endless variety of shapes, colors and forms. They can be hard to find sometimes because they avoid sunlight and grow only in dark places. This means that photographing them can be challenging, but it can be done. Slime molds can also be very beautiful in my opinion, so I’m going to try to go easy on the scientific jargon and just let you enjoy looking at them.

 1. Large Yellow Many Headed Slime Mold

Some slime molds can be very small and others quite large. This one in its plasmodium stage was easily as big as a dinner plate. 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 might be many headed slime mold (Physarum polycephalum.)

 2. Yellow Tooth Slime Mold

This photo shows how 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. I think this one might be spreading yellow tooth slime (Phanerochaete chrysorhiza.)

 3. Yellow Tooth Slime Mold Closeup

These are the “teeth” that make up the spreading yellow tooth slime mold in the photo above. They are fruiting bodies that will release spores produced on their surfaces. These fruiting bodies are so small that they are rarely able to be seen with the naked eye.

 4. Unknown Gray Slime Mold

From a distance this slime mold looked like any old gray, fuzzy forest mold, but as I got closer I saw that it was actually thousands of very thin filaments. I’ve never seen anything like it and can’t find it in books or online.

5. Closeup of Slime Mold

This is a close up of the slime mold in the previous photo. It looks like a pile of tangled fishing line, but each filament looked smaller in diameter than a human hair. I don’t know what benefit there would be to a living thing taking this form, unless it is to increase its surface area. It is certainly one of the oddest things I’ve ever seen in the woods and if I hadn’t seen it for myself I think I’d have a hard time believing that it was alive.

 6. Unknown White Slime Mold

I’ve seen photos online of slime molds very similar to this one but the people who took the photos didn’t have any more luck identifying it than I did. For now all I can say is that it is a white slime mold, possibly a Physarum, in the plasmodium stage. I had to use a flash for many of these photos because of the cloudy day and forest darkness.

 7. Possible Yellow Tooth Slime mold

I think this might be another example of spreading yellow tooth slime (Phanerochaete chrysorhiza.)

 8. Unknown White Slime Mold

This is another white slime mold in its plasmodium stage. Its name and species are unknown to me, but I think this one is very beautiful-almost like coral that has somehow escaped the sea.

9. White Slime Mold

This one won’t win any slime mold beauty contests that I happen to be judging, but it is unusual and the only example of the kind that I’ve seen. I think it might be chocolate tube slime mold (Stemonitis splendens.) The many tiny filaments were hanging from the underside of a log.

 10. White Finger Slime Mold

I showed a photo of this white finger slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. fruticulosa) a post or two ago but I’m seeing it everywhere and I like it.

 11. Fuligo septica Slime Mold

I think this might be dog vomit slime mold (Fuligo septica.) That’s an unfortunate name for a very interesting bit of nature. In the plasmodium stage this slime mold is transparent before it goes on to become a sponge-like mass called an aethalium, which is pictured here. An aethalium  is a “large, plump, pillow-shaped fruiting body.” This is also called scrambled egg slime mold because in Mexico, when it is in its plasmodium stage, it is collected and eaten like scrambled eggs. This is usually done on nights with the light of a full moon so the transparent plasmodium can be more easily seen.

 12. Yellow Fuligo septica Slime Mold

I think that this is another example of Fuligo septica. At this stage the slime mold forms a hard crust that eventually degrades and darkens in color prior to releasing its spores.

 13. Fuligo septica Slime Mold

This photo shows the darkening process of Fuligo septica just starting.

 14. Blue Slime Mold

One of the most interesting things about slime molds is the many colors that they come in and how they can change color and form seemingly at will. When some slime molds dry out they become similar to powder on dry leaves. I see this most often with yellow and orange slime molds, but here it has happened with a blue one.  Slime molds can be almost any color. Yellow and white seem to be most common but they can also be green, pink, purple, blue, red, orange, brown, and black.  Part of the fun of slime molds, for me, is trying to find all the various colors and shapes. This is only the second time I’ve seen blue.

I hope you find slime molds as beautiful and fascinating as I do. If so, the next time you walk in the woods after a rain on a humid summer day, look a little more carefully in those dark places that you wouldn’t expect anything to be growing in. You might be surprised by what you find.

I love nature, I just don’t want to get any of it on me.~ Woody Allen

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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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