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Posts Tagged ‘Mushrooms’

Last Sunday dawned cool and free of the oppressive humidity that we’ve seen so much of this summer, so I thought I’d go for a climb up to the High Blue Trail lookout in Walpole. As I mentioned in last Saturday’s post, I’ve been having some breathing issues so I chose this trail because the climb is easy and gentle. I also chose it because there is usually much to see here and on this day I wasn’t disappointed.

The first things that caught my eye were the map like patterns in this coltsfoot leaf left by leaf miners. How remarkable that anything could be small enough to eat the tissue between the top and bottom surfaces of a leaf.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) leaves whispered that fall was on the way but I didn’t want to listen.

But listen I had to, because everywhere I looked nature was whispering fall. Soon the whisper will become a shout.

I saw a young fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) just up out of the soil and looking like it had been scrubbed clean even though it hadn’t rained in a week. This mushroom is common where pine trees grow. 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’ve seen plenty of club coral fungi but I’ve never seen one that was hairy like this one. I think they might be examples of cotton base coral fungi (Lentaria byssieda,) which has “stalks that rise out of a creamy white, felt-like, hairy mycelial patch.” From what I’ve seen online and in guide books this fungi’s appearance can vary greatly as far as shape, with some having branch tips that are sharply pointed and others with blunt branch tips.

When I saw this I knew that it didn’t matter what else I saw on this day, because my day was complete. Violet coral fungus (Clavaria zollingeri) is a very rare thing in these parts and this is only the second time I’ve seen one. Both times I’ve seen it on a hillside, growing out of the soil on the side of the trail. Such a rare and beautiful thing can take you outside yourself for a time and I knelt there in the dirt taking photos and admiring it for I don’t know how long. I wish I’d see more of them but who knows what makes them only show themselves so rarely, and who knows why they wear that color?

The old road isn’t long but it is winding.

Before you know it you’re at the sign on the side road that leads to the lookout.

A birch tree had fallen across the old road. Many trees have fallen this summer and in a way it’s a good thing. Weak trees standing in a forest could fall without warning at any time so it’s good when the wind removes them. It’s dangerous to have them standing near trails, as this one illustrates.

I saw quite a few examples of the old man of the woods mushroom (Strobilomyces floccopus.) This grayish mushroom has black scales on its cap and stem and was very hard to get a good shot of. Both cameras that I carried had trouble focusing on it. Nobody seems to know how this mushroom came by its common name.

The old man’s pore surface starts off white, then turns gray before finally becoming black, so this one had some age. The flesh turns pinkish red when bruised and finally turns black. You can see the shaggy stem in this photo and that helps with identification.

Powdery mildew on an oak showed how very humid and still the air has been lately. Molds and mildews have a hard time developing when there is good air circulation.

Soon I was at the cornfield which was once a meadow. All my senses go on high alert here because I know that bears come here regularly to feed on the corn. I carried bear spray but if a bear suddenly burst out of the cornfield I doubt I would have had time to use it, so I stopped and listened for a minute or two. Hearing nothing but the rustling of the corn leaves I moved on.

The corn was just about ready to pick but since this is cattle corn the whole plant gets chewed up and becomes silage. It attracts almost every animal in the forest, including deer and raccoons but I was surprised to find very little animal damage among the stalks. Quite often you’ll find broken stalks lying on the ground with the husks torn from the ears, and all the kernels eaten. Maybe the animals are waiting for it to become dead ripe, I don’t know.

I saw two or three of these odd insects on ears of corn. Some kind of shield bug, I think.

Asters bloomed along the edge of the cornfield.

A black eyed Susan bloomed among hundreds of blooming lobelias. These were the pretty little lobelias called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.) I was surprised to see them because they’re just about finished blooming down in the low country.

I was especially glad the lobelias were blooming because there were two monarch butterflies visiting the small flowers. I scared this one away but luckily it landed close enough to get a photo of. I’ve been seeing lots of monarchs this year I’m happy to say, but this is the only one I’ve been able to get a photo of.

Though it was cool, sunny and dry when I left Keene by the time I reached the overlook clouds had rolled in and the air was so thick with humidity you could have cut it with a knife. This didn’t make breathing any easier and I was just about puffed out, as my blogging friend Mr. Tootlepedal says, so all I could think of was getting back to the car and into some air conditioning.  After a couple of quick shots of the thick haze I headed back down the hill.

The view wasn’t very good; you couldn’t even see Stratton Mountain over in Vermont. The blue was a little darker where it should have been but I think I see it in this shot only because I know where it is. As I’ve said many time before, if I climbed for the view I’d end up disappointed most of the time, so though I enjoy seeing across the Connecticut River Valley into Vermont I could hardly be disappointed after seeing all of the beautiful things I saw on the way up here. It isn’t about the end of the trail or how fast you can climb a hill; it really is about what you see along the way.

The events of the past day have proven to me that I am wholly alive, and that no matter what transpires from here on in, I have truly lived. ~Anonymous mountain climber

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Years ago I tried to do a post on Chesterfield Gorge, which lies over in Neighboring Chesterfield New Hampshire ,but it was really too dark there for the light gathering capabilities of my camera and I gave up on the place. Until recently that is; a helpful reader wrote and told me that our terrible storms this summer had toppled some trees and let in much more light, so last Saturday I went to see for myself. There was indeed more light available and I was finally able to get some passable shots of the gorge.

Chesterfield Gorge was created by Wilde Brook and it is said that it has taken it many thousands of years to cut through the bedrock to where it is today. The cool, shaded gorge has been enjoyed by locals for hundreds of years and in 1936 a local farmer named George White bought the land to be sure it would be forever preserved. It eventually became a state park and now anyone can enjoy it at no cost. There were many people here on this day including lots of children, which always gladdens my heart.

In places you’re high above the canyon that the brook has made and in the most dangerous areas the state has put up fencing to keep people back from the edge. But people will be people and some are foolhardy enough to climb the fences just so they can “get a little closer.” Not me; no photo is worth that fall.

The last time I came here there was only one bridge across the gorge because the raging waters of the brook had washed the upper bridge away. Happily I found a new one in its place this time. Though Wilde Brook seems placid enough it can quickly turn into a monster, so I’d never come here right after the kind of storms we’ve had recently. Over a foot of rain has now fallen in some places in just 4 weeks.  The brook starts at small ponds upstream and flows down into Partridge Brook in Westmoreland.  The last time I visited Partridge Brook I found that it also had raged and had scoured its bed right down to bedrock in places. It had also completely altered the landscape and had caused some serious flooding.

One of the trees that fell was a very big and old golden birch. There are many of them in this forest.

Sawdust on the inside of the fallen birch points to carpenter ants. I’m guessing that it probably had woodpecker holes as well because they love carpenter ants. Note the hollowed out space where the tree’s heart wood should have been.

Dry rot in the heart of the fallen birch pointed to fungi, and there were plenty of different mushrooms growing all over the fallen logs. The fungi rot the wood, ants move in, and before long a 100 foot tall tree is completely hollow inside. Add 60+ MPH winds and a lot of them come down; hopefully not on houses.

Some of the older birch logs displayed this wavy pattern. I think it was in the inner bark but I’m not positive, and I don’t know why it would be on only parts of certain logs. It was beautiful, like it had been sculpted.

I saw a lot of tiger’s eye fungi (Coltricia perennis,) also called fairy stools.  This one shows how the velvety cap reflects the sun and makes it look shiny. These are very pretty little mushrooms that vary in size and color. This one was probably an inch across and might have stood an inch tall.

I also saw lots of yellow spindle coral fungi (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) growing along the trail. These fungi almost always grow in tight cluster like these examples but I did see a single “finger” here and there.

Many trees had fallen into or across the gorge. It didn’t look like there was any way to get them out or to even cut them up. What will most likely happen is the next flood will wash them away.

The lower bridge is smaller than the upper one. It’s apparently also less likely to wash away, though I’m not sure why it would be.

I was surprised to see how low the water was by the lower bridge, but even so in places it still ran with enough force to knock a person down.

Here was a small, dammed up pool that looked perfect to cool off in. I often find these shallow pools that have been made by someone damming up a stream or brook with stones they’ve found just lying around. It’s hard to tell how long they’ve been there but I do know that people in the 1800s weren’t so very different than we are today when it came to recreation.

I’ve had some breathing issues lately so I’ve avoided hill climbing in the hot, humid weather we’ve had, but I had forgotten what a hike it was all the way down there and then back up again. I had to stop and pretend I had seen something interesting a couple of times while I caught my breath but I did surprisingly well. If this Louisiana weather ever leaves us I’ll have to start climbing again.

I kept taking photos of the gorge, trying to show how deep it really is. The safety fence at the top of the photo is about 4 feet high, so that should give you a sense of how far the drop to the water would be. I wish I could have gotten a closer look at all the plants on that cliff face, but it wasn’t possible.

Here’s one of those interesting things I saw while I stopped and caught my breath. At some point someone had bent a piece of iron into an S shape and hammered it into the end of this post. It looked quite old but I can’t guess what it meant.

Near the post was what looked like an old well cover. That’s something you have to be careful of in these woods because the wooden covers have often been there for a very long time and are rotted. And they’re often covered by leaves, so you have to pay attention, especially when near old cellar holes.

I saw lots of tree roots on the trail. I think the recent heavy rains have washed a lot of soil away from them, and that weakens their holding power so when a strong wind blows, down they go.

Some of the tree roots looked as if they had been carved and polished by an artist; so beautiful you wish you could take them home. I can’t guess how many years and how many feet it would take to do this.

I’ve chosen this little mushroom as the prettiest thing I saw on this day, but not just then; I’m seeing them everywhere I go this year and that seems a little odd since I can’t remember ever seeing them before. I love its colors and its waviness. I think it’s called the smooth chanterelle (Cantharellus lutescens) but I couldn’t guarantee that. There are a few chanterelle mushrooms that look a lot alike.

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.  ~Robert Louis Stevenson

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I keep doing these mushroom posts for two reasons: First, we’ve had so much rain and warm weather they’re everywhere right now, including many I’ve never seen before. Second, I hope to convince you that mushrooms can be every bit as beautiful as flowers. You just have to look a little closer to see them, that’s all. Who could not see beauty in this little group of butter wax caps (Hygrocybe ceracea)?

More and more coral mushrooms are beginning to appear. Many coral mushrooms get their common name from the way they resemble the corals found under the sea, as this one did. I think it is an ashy coral (Clavulina cinerea.) Not the prettiest perhaps, but it’s the first time I’ve seen one.

This one was very pretty. I think it might be a golden coral (Ramaria aurea.) I don’t see many yellow coral mushrooms of this kind so I was happy to find it.

Yellow spindle corals (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) are much easier to find and this year they’re everywhere. Each tiny cylinder is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti. The tips are usually pointed but on this example they were rounded. This species usually grows in tight clusters, often in the hard packed soil on the side of the trail, but lately I’ve found them on the forest floor as well.

Another fungus I’ve never seen is called worm coral or fairy fingers, though it is said to be common. It’s a white spindle mushroom named Clavaria vermicularis. There were several clusters of it growing in a large group in a mossy lawn. They are said to be so fragile that just a touch will break them.

Some of the white coral cylinders had begun to curl around the others in this group and others had broken. This fungus grows straight up out of the soil and usually doesn’t branch. The tips sometime become pointed and turn brown like some of these did.

I finally saw a yellow patches mushroom (Amanita flavoconia) with its patches still on. The patches are small pieces of the universal veil that covers the mushroom when it is young. The veil is made of very thin tissue and as the mushroom grows it tears through it, and bits are left on the cap. Apparently the rain can wash them off because I’ve seen many with no patches showing. This mushroom is in the Amanita family, which contains some of the most toxic mushrooms known. I’ll say it again: never eat a mushroom that you’re not 110% sure is safe. They don’t call some of them death caps and destroying angels for nothing.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are 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. 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.

Jelly babies (Leotia lubrica) are everywhere this year. These tiny mushroom almost always grow in clumps like that seen here. This is a gelatinous mushroom that often feels slippery and another name for it is slippery cap. It is also called green slime fungus and the gumdrop fungus. The lubrica part of its scientific name means slimy. They are very small; usually a clump this size could sit on a penny with room to spare, so you have to train your eyes to see small.

How do mushrooms that have just come out of the soil stay so clean? These had just pushed their way up through the wet leaves and had hardly a speck of soil on them. You’d think they’d be at least a little muddy. I think they were orange mycena mushrooms (Mycena leaiana,) but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Mushrooms don’t always have to have a cap and a stem to be beautiful. I love this orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) and look for it every year at this time. It’s color is so bright it’s like a beacon in the woods and it can be seen from quite far away on fallen branches. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself” and that is often just what it does.

I found this reddening lepiota (Leucoagaricus americanus) growing in a sunny meadow that had been logged recently. It was big; the cap must have been 4 inches across, and it was a beautiful thing. It is called reddening lepiota because it is said to turn red wherever it is touched, but since I didn’t touch it I can’t confirm that.

I saw one of the largest black jelly fungi (Exidia glandulosa) I’ve ever seen on a beech log. This is just one part of a mass that must have had a total length of a foot or more. Some of it was shiny and some had a matte finish like that pictured. When it comes to jelly fungi, spores are produced on the shiny surface. They can absorb up to 60 times their weight in water and when dry shrink down to little flakes. This fungus is also called black witch’s butter and black jelly roll.

There are three bolete mushrooms that I know of that have webbed stalks that look similar to this one, so the caps have to tell the story. Russell’s bolete (Boletus russellii) shown here has a yellow-brown velvety cap that gets scaly and cracked on top as it ages. The shaggy stalked bolete (Boletus betula) has a small cap that looks far out of proportion to the stem; like it was stunted somehow. Frost’s bolete (Boletus frostii) has dark red sticky caps with red undersides and is also called the apple bolete. Sometimes amber colored drops appear on the surface of that one’s cap. Boletes have pores on the cap underside instead of gills.

Nothing in nature is done on a whim; everything is done for a reason, so how does a deeply grooved stalk like this one benefit a mushroom?  Does it keep slugs from crawling up it? These are the kinds of questions that come to me when I’m in the woods and I don’t really expect anyone to try and answer them. Unless you happen to know the answers, that is.

I’m seeing a lot of puffballs this year. These examples were common earth balls (Scleroderma citrinum,) which are also called the poison pigskin puffballs.  Though these grew on a well-rotted log they normally like to grow on compacted earth and are not common in this area. They often have a yellow tint on their surface and are called citrine earth balls because of it.

One of my favorite fungal finds for this post 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 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 showed a young and very dark purple cort mushroom (Cortinarius iodeoides) in my last post so this time I thought I’d show one further along to illustrate how they lighten with age. The handy acorn helps show the scale of this pretty mushroom.

One of the prettiest mushrooms in the woods right now are black chanterelles (Craterellus cornucopioides.) I met a mushroom forager once who told me that this mushroom was considered a choice delicacy and at that time restaurants were paying him $50.00 per pound for them, and they’d buy all he could find. But the trouble was finding them; mushroom hunters say they are very hard to find because looking for them is like looking for black holes in the ground. Some say they can look right at them and not see them but for me they seem very easy to find, and I think that’s due to my colorblindness. I’ve read that armies keep colorblind soldiers because they can “see through” many types of camouflage, and I think that must be why I can see these mushrooms so clearly when others can’t.

Black chanterelles are really deep purple. They are also called the deep purple horn of plenty. They seem to like growing on hillsides; that’s the only place I’ve ever found them.

Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, thread like hyphae. When mushroom spores grow they produce mycelium, which eventually produces fruit, which is the above ground portion that we see. The beautiful mycelium in this photo grew on the underside of a log and I never would have seen it if I hadn’t rolled the log over. Mycelium growths are thought to be the largest living things on earth. A huge honey mushroom (Armillarea ostoyae) mycelium in Oregon’s Blue Mountains covers 2,384 acres and holds the record for the world’s largest known organism. It is thought to be between 2,400 and 8,650 years old.

I met a  twenty something girl and her dog on a wooded trail recently. I had a camera around my neck as usual and she must have thought I was birding because she stopped and told me where to find some ducks and a heron. I thanked and told her that actually I was looking for mushrooms, and that’s when she lit up. “Oh,” she said, “I just saw one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It was a red mushroom with what looked like white mold on it, and the mold sparkled like crystals. Who would ever believe that a moldy mushroom could be so beautiful?” I had to laugh, and I told her that I had a photo at home that almost matched what she had just described. “So I’d believe it,” I told her, and then we both laughed. It was nice to meet someone so full of the love and beauty of nature. She smiled from ear to ear and her eyes sparkled when she spoke and she was just bubbling over with joy at what she had seen. Well my fungal friends, I thought as I walked on, it seems we have a new convert.

All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child. ~Marie Curie

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Last Saturday it rained most of the day but Sunday had hit or miss showers so I hoped for the best and went for one of my favorite walks along the Ashuelot River in Keene. It was a damp, humid day.

I’ve known this section of river all my life. I used to fish here at the dam when I was a boy and they still fish for trout, pickerel and sunfish here today. All I ever caught were perch and dace but the river was a lot dirtier in those days. This dam is known as the Faulkner and Colony dam because it was built around 1777 by that company to power their mill. A few years ago there was talk about removing it to open up the river and another idea would refurbish it to generate power but I haven’t heard anything lately about either idea. I like the thought of restoring the river to what it once was without any dams on it. Two other dams have been removed in the past 20 years; one in Swanzey and one in Hinsdale.

Twelve Native American sites have been found along this section of river so far. At least one site dates back 10, 500 years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of these trails were originally made by the Natives, because they hug the river closely and have many good fishing spots along them.  The word Ashuelot means “collection of many waters” in Native American language and many small tributaries pour into it throughout the area. The Ashuelot in turn, empties into the Connecticut River before it finally finds its way to the Atlantic.

Arrowwood viburnum berries (Viburnum dentatum) were ripe along the shore but hadn’t been touched by the birds.

Elderberries on the other hand, were being eaten the minute they ripened. There were green berries and half ripe red berries, but no fully ripe purple-black berries on this bush. I don’t suppose I’ll ever understand why birds choose to eat what they do. We still have staghorn sumacs full of last year’s fruit, and what’s wrong with viburnum berries?

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) still blooms alongside rivers and ponds but its cousin steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) has finished. Native Americans used both plants medicinally.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) was ready to call it a summer. The leaves on this plant sometimes turn a beautiful purple color at the end of summer. Some Native American tribes used this plant to treat nosebleeds and others used it as a spice. It likes to grow in disturbed soil near water.

The most popular spot for turtles in this part of the river is the end of this old log. You can almost always see a turtle or two on it at any time of day so it’s a good place for children to walk. When I was a boy it seemed like this place had everything a boy could want, and I spent many happy days here.

In places the trail widens enough so that 4 people could walk side by side, but this width doesn’t last. On most of the trail 2 people side by side is more like it.

The prize for the most unusual thing I saw on this day has to go to what I think is a bleeding tooth fungus (Hydnellum peckii.) This large fungus gets its common name from the many droplets of blood red liquid it exudes when young. Though some of the droplets on this example were red most were more amber colored. The “tooth” part of the common name comes from the spines on its underside. The liquid the fungus oozes contains a chemical called atromentin, which has anti-bacterial and anticoagulant properties.

Here is a look at the mushroom under LED light, which shows that most of the droplets are not red. Because of the color of the liquid and the fact that I found it growing on a tree rather than on the ground I question my identification, but I can’t find another mushroom that “bleeds” and grows on trees. If you know of another species that does this and grows on trees I’d love for you to tell me about it.

A large tree had fallen into the river on the far side. This is a fairly regular occurrence and it always reminds me that, however slowly, the river is always getting wider. It was also quite high due to all of the rain. I think we’re up to about 10 inches in three weeks, according to the rain gauge where I work. This is after a moderate drought in the first half of summer and the dry land has been sponging it up fairly well until lately. Now there aren’t many places for more water to go. Even the forest floor has standing water on it in many places, so we need a dry spell. As I write this it’s pouring rain yet again.

Something had been munching on the starflowers (Trientalis borealis.) The Trientalis part of the plant’s scientific name means “one third of a foot” in Latin, and that’s just about how tall this pretty little plant gets. The spring woods wouldn’t be the same without its white star shaped flowers. This one had a seed pod; you can just see the tiny white dot between the leaf at 12 o’clock and the one at 1 o’clock.

Tiny starflower seedpods always remind me of soccer balls. They’re just about the same size as an air gun BB. The few brown seeds inside need a cold period to germinate and will not do so until the fall of the second year. Ants and other insects “plant” the seeds.

I saw some colorful turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor,) the first fresh ones I’ve seen this season. I’m hoping to see lots of blue and purple ones this year.

Woodland agrimony (Agrimonia striata) looks almost like goldenrod from a distance. The small yellow flowers grow on long spikes (racemes) on a short, knee high plant.

Woodland agrimony is said to be rare in New England and I believe it because this is one of only two places I’ve ever seen it. It grows in the shade near a tangle of many other plant species. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years dating back to at least ancient Egypt. Though the plant is said to be native to the U.S. and Canada I can find no information on how it was used by Native Americans, and that’s unusual. It is also called roadside agrimony.

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is one of my summer favorites, mostly because it dresses in my favorite color. This is another plant that loves water and it grows near ponds and rivers, and even wet roadside ditches. The bitter roots of this plant were used by native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into flour by some tribes, and others dried the flowers and used them as snuff to treat nosebleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the Europeans and they used it in much the same ways.

One of the reasons I wanted to visit this place was because I had seen narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) blooming in Nelson the previous week and I wanted to see if the closed or bottle gentians (Gentiana linearis) were blooming. Not only were they not blooming, they were barely budded. Narrow leaf and closed gentian flowers look identical, so you have to look at the leaves carefully to tell the difference. These leaves are wider and have a different overall shape than those of narrow leaf gentian.

The trail narrowed and got muddy after a time, but I was too busy enjoying all the wildflowers to care.

One of the wildflowers I saw was spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis,) which gets its name not from its orange flowers but from the way raindrops sparkle like jewels on its wax coated leaves.

I turn around at this little bridge because not too far beyond it you come to one of the main roads through Keene, and I didn’t need to see it again. Though this was a wet walk I made it all the way back and never did get rained on. It always does me good to be close to the river. I always come away feeling recharged, as if the 12 year old me has joined the me of today. I think that must be mainly due to the memories, because there isn’t a bad one to be found here.

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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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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As I said in my last post, it rained here every day for a week. The mushrooms are almost jumping up out of the ground and I hope to find enough for a full fungus post in the near future. Meanwhile here is what I think are yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia,) but since my fungi identifying skills aren’t what they should be I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. Yellow patches gets its common name from the yellow bits of universal veil on its cap. You can just see them on the smaller example. The universal veil is made of tissue and completely covers the young mushroom. As it grows it eventually breaks the veil and pieces of it are left on the cap. Rain can wash them off and I’m guessing that’s what happened on the larger example. The rains have been torrential.

Without any human intervention trees get wounded in the forest. It can happen when one tree falls and hits another or sometimes when a large branch falls. Squirrels chew bark, woodpeckers drill holes. In any event a wounded tree is not that unusual, even when it is black and weeping like the wound on this oak was, but what caught my eye were those tiny yellow-orange dots in the upper center of this photo.

I was very surprised to find that the tiny dots were eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata.) This is only the third time I’ve seen them and I don’t know much about them, but I thought they only lived on dead wood. Very well soaked dead wood, in fact; the two previous examples I saw were growing on twigs lying in the standing water of a seep. Eyelash fungi are in the cup fungus family. The hairs on them can move and curl in towards the center of the disc shaped body.

I walked through a field of milkweed looking for monarch butterflies or their caterpillars. I never did see the monarchs but I saw an amazing amount of other insects, including hundreds of bumblebees.

An eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly was on a milkweed plant but flew off to a Queen Anne’s lace blossom before I could get a photo. These butterflies have been skittish all summer and have hardly sat still at all for me, so I was a bit befuddled when this one finally let me take as many shots as I wanted.

I’ve had quite a time trying to identify what I thought was a common butterfly. It was a small one; much smaller than a swallowtail, maybe about the size of a cabbage white. It liked hawkweed and flew from blossom to blossom in a patch of panicled hawkweed. I think it was a silvery checker spot; at least, that’s the closest I could come by looking at similar examples. It was a pretty little thing, whatever its name.

A Japanese beetle looked like a shiny jewel on a milkweed leaf. These beetles do a lot of damage here but this year they don’t seem to have the staggering numbers they’ve had in the past.

Red spotted milkweed beetles hid on the underside of a milkweed leaf. The scientific name of this beetle, Tetraopes, means “four eyes” in Greek. This longhorn beetle is unusual because of the way the base of its long antennae bisect its eyes. The antennae actually splits each eye in two, so they do indeed have four eyes. It is thought that these beetles ingest toxins from milkweed plants to protect them from predators, just like monarch butterflies do. The red and black colors are also there to warn predators.

I thought a milkweed leaf had a tiny gall on it, but when I tapped on it with my fingernail it started to move.

And it moved pretty fast. That’s because it was a snail and not a gall. I’ve never seen snails on milkweed before but we’ve had snail-ish weather this summer with very high humidity, so maybe that has something to do with it. I believe these are called blunt amber snails. They were almost translucent and quite small.

A fly was on the same milkweed plant that the snails were on and it agreed to sit for a photo shoot. I think it was a tachinid fly. From what I’ve read there are over 1300 species of tachinid fly, so I’m not even going to try to come up with an identification. It reminded me of that movie The Fly with Vincent Price.

What I think was a slaty skimmer dragonfly showed signs of age with pieces missing from its wings, but it was still a beautiful blue. It let me get just one shot before it flew off.  I’ve read that mature males are dark blue with black heads, so I’d guess that this is an example of a mature male.

A beautiful blue river of pickerel weed flowed through a ditch next to a cornfield. When I see things like this I have no choice; I have to stop and admire them because they are so unexpected. It’s as if they were put there specifically to be admired. These are the things that can take you outside of yourself and let you walk in a higher place for a time. As Amit Ray once said: Beauty is the moment when time vanishes.

A great blue heron wanted to be a statue in its own hidden patch of pickerel weed, and it made a good one. I didn’t have time to wait for it to move; that can sometimes take quite a while.

A yellow bellied sapsucker left its neat rows of holes in a hawthorn. Many other birds, bats, insects and animals sip the sap that runs from these holes and they are an important part of the workings of the forest.  But why does the pattern have to be so neat? I wonder.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are speckled green and red for a short time before becoming brilliant red. The plant is called treacle berry because the fruit is said to taste like bitter molasses, which is also known as treacle. They’re rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy. They have also been known to act as a laxative to those who aren’t used to eating them. Native Americans used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas and also inhaled the fumes from burning roots to treat headaches and body pain.

Though I don’t see a banner year for blueberries this year the crop doesn’t look too bad. I think there will be enough to keep both bears and humans happy. One of the best places to pick blueberries that I’ve seen is from a boat, canoe or kayak, because blueberries grow on the shores of our lakes and ponds in great profusion and the bushes often hang out over the water. You can fill a small bucket in no time.

Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) berries start out green and then turn orange before finally ripening to red. They are pretty things but they can be mildly toxic to adults and more so to children, though I’ve never heard of anyone eating them. Tatarian honeysuckle is considered an invasive shrub. Birds eat the berries and the plant spreads quickly, with an estimated seedling density of 459,000 per acre. Once grown their dense canopy shades the forest floor enough so native plants can’t grow, so the land around dense colonies is often barren.

The seeds of curly dock (Rumex crispus) start out looking like tiny seed pearls before ripening to the pretty things seen here. Curly dock is in the rhubarb family and is originally from Europe. The small seeds can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute, and the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. They are rich in beta-carotene and vitamins A and C and were used by many as a green vegetable during the depression. Its common name comes from the wavy edges on the leaves.

What does all this ripening mean? I don’t want to be the one to say it but I shouldn’t have to; just looking around will tell the story.

So many hues in nature and yet nothing remains the same, every day, every season a work of genius, a free gift from the Artist of artists. ~E.A. Bucchianeri

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Last Saturday I did a post about a rail trail that I had hiked in Winchester and in that post I mentioned that I was a bit anxious that the trail looked like it was no longer being maintained. The maintenance of many of these rail trails is handled by local snowmobile clubs. They volunteer their time and effort to keep these trails open for winter use but there is only so much they can do, and I’m afraid they might have had to let that one go. This post will show what happens to a trail when it is no longer maintained, and why the thought that some trails might no longer be maintained gets me a little anxious.

Two weeks ago we had a thunderstorm. It didn’t seem like anything special; we expect thunderstorms in June in this part of the world. It only lasted for maybe 20 minutes and as I say, it didn’t seem like anything special. Until I looked out my window and saw my neighbor’s huge old oak tree on my lawn, that is. Then I knew that this wasn’t just a June thunderstorm. In fact thousands of trees had been blown down all over the state, and close to 100,000 people lost power because of it. This day, on this trail, I saw at least 10 trees that had blown across the trail, but they had all been cleaned up. Do we ever wonder who does all the cleaning up? I wonder. Some trees fell where I work, and it took all day for two of us to clean up a single pine tree like the one pictured above. It was a lot of work, and that was just one tree.

There will be more tree work on this trail; I saw 3 or 4 trees that had fallen and gotten hung up on trees on the other side of the trail. These are called “widow makers” and I hope nobody is under them when they come down.

I’m still not seeing many fungi because of the dryness, but a little rain the day before was apparently enough to coax this yellow mushroom into fruiting. It had a little slug damage on the cap but it was still worthy of a photo or two.

A colony of heal all plants (Prunella lanceolata) grew in a sunny spot, still moist from the previous day’s showers. I love to see these small but beautiful orchid like flowers.

Other flowers I like to see are maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) and they found sunny spots to grow in too. At first I thought they were their cousins the Deptford pinks (Dianthus armeria) but the jagged circle in the center of the flower told the story. Deptford pinks don’t have this feature.  They should be along any time now.

There are lots of box culverts carrying streams under this rail trail but much of the rail bed was built on fill that was packed between two hills, and in some cases it’s a 50 foot climb down to see the culverts. This example was the only one that was just a few feet below the rail bed. That granite lintel stone over the opening is about two feet thick; strong enough to have locomotives roll over it for well over a century.

There are plenty of other reminders of the railroad out here as well, like this old signal box. I once had an asbestos abatement contractor tell me that these were often lined with asbestos, so it’s best to just let them be.

Old stone walls still mark the boundary lines between private and railroad property.

I’ve never seen a horse on this trail but you can tell that they’ve been here.

I was surprised to find many pinesap plants (Monotropa hypopitys) up and ready to bloom. I don’t usually find these until well after their cousins the Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) bloom, but I haven’t seen a single Indian pipe yet this year. The chief differences between the two plants are color and flower count. Indian pipes are stark white and have a single flower, while pinesap plants are honey colored or reddish with multiple flowers. Neither plant photosynthesizes. Instead they receive nutrients from fungi that are associated with the roots of oaks and pines.

I’m guessing this log must act like a sponge and hold water, because it had coral fungus all over it. I think the soil is simply too dry to support much fungi at the moment.

I think these were crown tipped coral fungi (Clavicorona pyxidata) but since I don’t have a microscope to make identification a certainty, please don’t hold me to that.

This is a great trail for groups of people to walk because it is so wide. I think 4 people could walk side by side over most of it. It is level over much of its length and mostly arrow straight as well. When it does curve the curves are so gentle you don’t even realize it.

And that is why this should tell you something; the railroad would have never built anything like this. It’s hard to tell but it goes steeply uphill and the curves are far too sharp for a train to follow. That’s because this is a detour around the actual railbed, which lies abandoned over there on the right.

If you were to ignore the detour and keep walking straight on, this is what you’d find; the original rail bed. After I climb over and under a few downed trees, we’ll have a look.

The original rail bed was another deep cut, with a man-made canyon hacked out of the stone hillside. I’ve explored it before and found that the far end is blocked by many tons of gravel, which was poured into the canyon when a road was built across it. It’s a confusing conundrum, because I’m sure both the road and railbed are very old. If the road was there when the railbed was built there should be a tunnel under the road. If the road was built later over a running railroad there would have been a bridge or trestle over the rails. In any event there is just a huge mound of gravel at the end, and that has caused the drainage ditches on either side of the railbed to fail, so I got very wet feet in here. I should have worn my winter hikers.

These photos show what our rail trails would look like if the maintenance on them were to suddenly stop. When I say that we owe our snowmobile clubs and all of the other volunteers who keep these trails open a huge debt of gratitude, I’m not joking. I think it took me over two hours to pick my way through the entire length the first time I explored it, and this section isn’t even a mile long.

The woods have a luminous quality out here but even so this part isn’t a very pleasant walk. I spent far more time climbing over trees and avoiding walking in standing water than I did actually walking so I decided not to follow the canyon to the end. Standing in ankle deep mud taking photos isn’t much fun, so my only thought was to get out of here.

I grew up in a house that was just a few yards from a Boston and Maine Railroad track that freight trains ran over twice a day, so when I saw them tear up all the rails and take them away it was traumatic enough to keep me off rail trails for a very long time. Seeing a dirt trail where the trains once ran was a hard thing but finally after 30 years or so I convinced myself that it was time to get over it and I’ve been walking these rail trail ever since. In that time I’ve discovered what a great gift they are. For a nature lover who wants to get far into the woods without having to cut a trail, there is simply nothing that can compare. I hope we will all do our best to keep them open, even if it is simply telling a town or state representative how much we enjoy them. To stand aside and watch nature reclaim something so unique and valuable would be a real tragedy, in my opinion.

It’s amazing how quickly nature consumes human places after we turn our backs on them. Life is a hungry thing. ~Scott Westerfeld

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