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Posts Tagged ‘Mushrooms’

One of the things I’ve seen (or felt) this time around is cold, and lots of it. The record cold of the second week of November came as quite a shock after the record warmth of the first week of the month. I was surprised when I found these frost crystals on my windshield one morning.

Ice needles by the thousands thrust up out of the saturated soil near a stream. An awful lot of things have to come together perfectly for ice needles to form. First, there has to be groundwater present and the temperature right at the soil surface has to be below 32 degrees F. The groundwater remains thawed until hydrostatic pressure forces it out of the soil, where it then becomes super cooled and freezes instantly into a needle shape. As more water is forced out of the soil it freezes at the base of the needle and it becomes longer and longer. As this photo shows there are often so many needles that they freeze together and form ribbons. Each needle is hexagonal in shape and the longest one ever found was over 16 inches long. These examples were probably 3-4 inches long.

This is what soil with ice needles growing in it often looks like from above, but more important is the crunching sound the needles make when you walk on them. More often than not I find them by sound rather than by sight. They are very fragile and break easily, and if just the merest hint of sunlight falls on them they melt, so look for them in the shade.

Ground water seeping out of stone ledges formed icicles and that reminded me that it’s almost time to visit the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland, where the icicles grow into ice columns as big as tree trunks.

Ice isn’t the only thing we’ve seen here lately. The first real snowfall measured an inch or two in some places. This is what my ride to work looked like early one morning. When snow falls on thawed ground it melts rather quickly. The soil doesn’t usually freeze here until December, but it can vary. In a cold winter with little snow it can freeze down to nearly four feet deep.

The snow was on the wet side rather than dry and powdery so it stuck to every single twig and stalk in the forest. One of my favorite quotes by Scottish author William Sharp says “There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.” I agree, and that’s what this day was like. You don’t just see beauty like this. You feel it—you give yourself to it, and it becomes part of you.

At the Ashuelot River ice baubles formed on overhanging shrub branches. They are very colorful in the sun and it looks like someone has hung prisms from the branches the way they flash different colors.

As the river water splashes up onto a twig, drop by drop a teardrop shape (usually) forms. The ice they’re made of is as clear as polished crystal, and very reflective.

There was pancake ice in the river below the falls. It forms from the foam that the falls create. The foam becomes slushy and breaks into small pieces and freezes, and the current spins the irregularly shaped pieces into more circular shapes.

The constantly moving circles of river foam bump into each other and form rims, and they start to look like pancakes. Most are about the size of a honeydew melon but they can be bigger or smaller. From what I’ve read pancake ice is rare outside of the arctic but I see it here (and only here) every winter. In the arctic these frozen “pancakes” can pile on top of one another and in some areas 60 foot thick ridges of them have formed. Here though, they simply float off down the river.

White ice, so I’ve read, has a lot of oxygen in it. It is paper thin and tinkles when it breaks and I usually find it on mud puddles, but only at the start and end of winter. I love it because it always reminds me of spring, and that’s when I used to ride my bike through puddles of it when I was a boy.  You can see some amazing things in this ice. I’ve seen everything from eagle silhouettes to solar systems in it.

This is something I’ve never seen. The foam in a stream froze into formations at the base of a tree and they looked remarkably like turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) My thoughts on what kind of currents it took to make them would be a guess but maybe the stream water splashed against the roots and created ripples of foam, and then the foam froze as the ripples left the shore.

Speaking of turkey tail fungi, I’ve seen some beautifully colored examples this year. Turkey tails are among the most colorful fungi and also one of the easiest to find, and they grow in nearly every state in this country and throughout Europe, Asia, and Russia.

Their colors are described as buff, brown, cinnamon, and reddish brown in mushroom books but they come in many more colors than just those. Blue and purple are two of my favorite colors, but turkey tales wearing those colors are rare in my experience. I probably see one blue one for every five hundred brown ones.

Their concentric bands of color are what make turkey tails so beautiful but beauty isn’t all they have going for them. They’ve been used medicinally in China for thousands of years and in this country the food and drug administration has approved them for cancer treatment trials.

I saw some strangely colored but beautiful trumpet shaped mushrooms on a dead elm tree. I think they were frozen solid. Maybe that’s what made them so beautifully colored.

We’ve had a year with more cones on the evergreen trees than anyone has ever seen before. Great bunches of them weighted down the uppermost branches of the white pines (Pinus strobus) until they finally opened, dropped their seeds, and fell to the ground by the thousands. I decided to check into why there were so many and it turns out that the drought of 2016 has a lot to do with it, because that’s when the cones actually formed. Often, when a plant is stressed out enough to “think” that it’s dying it will produce larger than normal amounts of seed to ensure the continuation of the species, and it looks like that is just what our evergreen trees have done. Every single person I’ve talked to says that they have never seen so many cones.

Unfortunately something else that has been very noticeable to everyone is the sticky sap, called pitch, which has been falling from the white pines. It has gotten all over everything and is very tough to clean off. You can’t sit at a picnic table without sticking to the benches and you can’t drive your car down the road without finding large gobs of sticky pitch all over it. I’ve had to clean it off my car twice now and I can say that it doesn’t come off easily. The above photo is of a log with gobs of pitch all over it. As it dries the pitch turns white and as the weather cools and the pitch ages it often turns a bluish purple color. Turpentine is made from the resin of pine trees, and turpentine is just about what it takes to get it off.

The inner bark of this fallen Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) was so intricate and beautiful all I could do was stand and stare. And when I came back to my senses I remembered to take a photo.

As I hope this post has shown, even after the flowers have gone and the leaves have fallen there are still plenty of beautiful things to see out there. All of the beauty we don’t see in the warm months seems to be amplified or magnified in the cold months. The crisp blue of the sky, the golden light of the rising and setting sun, the greens of the mosses; all seem more vibrant. Even stones can be beautiful, as this one was. I don’t know what was in the geologic soup that it came from but it’s very different than most other stones in this area and very beautiful, and I found myself wishing it could come home with me.

Last year I must have driven to my favorite mountain viewing spot to see if there was snow on Mount Monadnock at least four times before I finally saw it snowcapped but this year there it was, and I took this photo on my way to work one morning with no extra effort at all. As a bonus a bald eagle flew by but it was far too fast for a photo. Though it looks like Dublin Lake in the foreground was frozen over it wasn’t. The sun hadn’t come up yet and I think it was just the low light that made it look that way.

By the time I had driven to Hancock the morning sun was just kissing Monadnock and turning the scattered patches of snow to gold. Mist gathered in the valley below and the scene was so beautiful I almost forgot I was on my way to work. When the sun rises or sets change happens quickly and it’s hard to pull yourself away.

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone here in the U.S. has a safe and happy Thanksgiving Day tomorrow and don’t forget; a walk in the woods is a great way to burn off all those extra calories.

 

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We burn a lot of wood here in New Hampshire because with 4.8 million acres of forest it is plentiful and usually costs less than oil heat. One of the things I like about burning wood is the handling of it. Cutting, splitting and stacking means you have to handle each piece a few times, and when you do you notice things that you might have never seen while the tree was standing. The following photos are of the various things I found in this woodpile.

Black jelly drop fungi (Bulgaria inquinans) grew on an oak log. They are also called poor man’s licorice but they aren’t edible. They look and feel like black gumdrops, and for some unknown reason are almost always found on oak trees that have been felled and cut up for firewood.

Though they look like jelly fungi black jelly drops are sac fungi. Their fertile, spore bearing surface is shiny and the outside of the cups look like brown velvet. They are sometimes used for dying fabric in blacks, browns, purples and grays.

This is an example of a true jelly fungus, which is little more than a bag of water that inflates to about 60 times its dry size when it rains. If it was dry this amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) would be just a dark flake on the tree’s bark.  After absorbing plenty of rainwater this example was about as big as an average adult fingernail. Jelly fungi feel cool to the touch and kind of rubbery, like your ear lobe. Their spores are produced on their shiny surfaces. If you look closely at them you can see that one side is shiny and the other has more of a matte finish. I find these on oak more than other species, but sometimes on poplar and alder as well.

This brown jelly cup fungus (Peziza repanda) looked a little tattered and dirty but it’s a good example of the variety of fungi you can find on cut logs. Though it is called a jelly cup it is a sac fungus and different Peziza species can grow on wood, soil, or dung. This example is a cool weather mushroom that grows on hardwood logs or wood chips, and it is usually seen in spring and fall.  Mushroom expert Michael Kuo says brown cup fungi can be very difficult to identify.

Hairy Stereum (Stereum hirsutsm) is also called the hairy curtain crust fungus. The common name comes from the way these fungi are covered with fine velvety hairs on their upper surface when they’re young. They like to grow on fallen hardwoods and can be found just about any time of year. The color can vary but the wavy edge helps identify them. These examples were very young.

Witch’s butter on a log in a woodpile might alert you to the fact that you’ve got some soft wood mixed in with your hardwood, because this fungus usually grows on hemlock logs. You can burn soft woods like hemlock but they burn faster and don’t heat quite like hardwoods. They can also cause a lot of creosote buildup in a chimney.

Many of the logs shown in the first shot in this post were dragged. It’s a common practice to have to drag cut trees out of a forest to a landing so they can be cut into manageable pieces and loaded onto logging trucks, and when this one was dragged a woodpecker hole became filled with soil. This is a good time to mention that nearly every log shown in this post came from a tree that had something wrong with it. Woodpeckers dig holes in tree trunks to get at insects living in the tree; often carpenter ants. The ants eat the cellulose and weaken the tree, and it isn’t that unusual to find that the tree you’ve cut is completely hollow.

This example was hollowed out either by insects or heart rot cause by a fungus. Mushrooms and other fungi growing on trees is never a good sign. All of this weakens the tree and when a good wind comes along, down they go. Friends of mine just lost their barn to a hundred + year old pine tree that fell and cut the barn right in half. The tree people estimated its weight at 20 tons. That’s 40,000 pounds of wood, and we’re all very thankful that we weren’t anywhere near it when it fell. It was hollow, just like the one in the photo. It was also full of big, black carpenter ants.

This tree had a double whammy. The channels were caused by insects, probably carpenter ants, and then fungal spores got in and revealed themselves when they fruited into these little white mushrooms. It’s possible that the insects in the tree were farming this mushroom and brought parts of it into their channels to feed on. In any event this tree’s life was shortened by quite a few years. It could have stood hollow and lived on for a long time but heaven help anyone who was near it when it finally came down.

A woodpecker made two holes in this oak tree, one above the other, and as the tree tried to heal itself the holes became spoon shaped. It’s another example of what was a standing hollow tree.

Everyone knows that moss grows on trees but what everyone might not know is that many trees like this oak have channels in their bark which direct rainwater down to the tree’s roots. They can be clearly seen in this example, and so can the moss growing right beside and between them. Mosses like a lot of water and when they grow on a tree trunk they get it by growing next to these vertical streams. Do they grow on the north side of trees? Yes, and on the east, west, and south sides too; whichever is more moist.

Lichens are a common sight in woodpiles and beard lichens are very common. Often you can see them growing all up and down the trunks of trees and much like mosses, lichens grow near the channels in the bark so they can get ample moisture. I think this example is a fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula,) so called because of its resemblance to the backbone of a fish. Many people seem to think that lichens will kill a tree but they are simply opportunists looking for all the rain and sunlight they can get and they just perch on trees like birds do. They take nothing from the tree, so if I pulled this one off this log and put it on a living tree it would just grow on as if nothing ever happened as long as it received the right amount of moisture and light. Lichens are virtually indestructible and that’s why some scientists say they are immortal, or as close to immortal as any living thing can be.

I think this is the start of a beautiful crust fungus called the wrinkled crust (Phlebia radiata.) These mushrooms lie flat on the wood they grow on and have no stem, gills or pores. They radiate out from a central point and can be very beautiful. The darker area on this example is where it was wet and the lighter ones where it was dry. They don’t mind cool weather; I usually find them at this time of year and I’m hoping I’ll find a few more.

I’m not a logger or an arborist so I don’t know why this log has such a dark ring just under its bark. I zoomed in on the photo and counted the rings and found that the dark ring started about 12-14 years ago. Something must have happened back then to cause the change, but I can’t guess what it was.

I do know what caused the purple staining in this log; iron, meaning it has foreign objects like screws or nails in it. Sawmills look for this kind of thing when logging trucks bring in a load of logs and they’ll reject the whole load if they see it.

Here’s an example of a foreign object embedded in a tree. In a few more years the tree would have grown over it and it never would have been seen. The only thing that would have given it away was the purple staining when the tree was cat. Nothing will destroy a saw blade or chain quicker than something like this.

If all the stars and planets are aligned perfectly and you pay close attention to your wood pile you could find something as rare and beautiful as this cobalt crust fungus (Terana caerulea) in it. This photo was taken about three years ago and I’ve been looking for this beautiful fungus ever since, but have never seen another one. This is just the time of year for it to appear, so I’ll be watching for it.

The old saying, as I’ve always heard it, says that firewood warms you three times; once when you cut it, once when you stack it, and once when you burn it, and I’d have to say that was just about right. If you dress in layers against the cold you’ll find yourself peeling them off in a hurry once you get to the wood pile. I’ve always looked at cutting and splitting wood as an enjoyable job though, and I hope this post might make the job of getting your woodshed filled just a little more enjoyable too.

The knots in the wood can’t be untied. ~Marty Rubin

Thanks for coming by.

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Last weekend I remembered that I hadn’t climbed any hills in a while so I chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. The trail starts in a meadow / hayfield and I was surprised to see a path starting to wear into the grass. I suppose it must be becoming a popular climb even though I rarely meet anyone here.

There was a nice display of big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) and gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) along the edge of the field. The big, hand sized, heart shaped leaves helped me identify the asters.

The trail starts out narrow and level but before long it widens and angles uphill.

A ray of sunshine had found a colony of shining clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum) and made it shine even more. This clubmoss is unusual and easy to identify because it is unbranched and grows fairly erect.

Cockscomb or crested coral (Clavulina cristata) grew on the side of the trail. Crested corals have branches that end in sharp tips and these tips will often turn brown, but these examples were still nice and white. It had rained all day the day before so it might have been very fresh. I’m not sure what the tiny yellow fungus in the background was.

The names pinwheel and horsehair mushroom are interchangeable and go by the scientific name of Marasmius rotula. They grow on decaying leaves and decaying wood and can appear overnight after a good rain. They are very small and rarely grow larger in diameter than a pea. This one grew on last year’s leaves and was easily the largest I’ve ever seen with a diameter equal to that of an aspirin.

Another record mushroom in my book was this hemlock varnish shelf fungus (Ganoderma tsugae.) It was larger than a dinner plate and I’d guess quite old. Its common name comes from its shiny cap which usually looks like it has been varnished, but this example was very dirty. This mushroom is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

The trail goes gently uphill until we near the summit where the grade is steep. It’s very dark through this section of forest because of the overspreading evergreen branches of pines and hemlocks.

If you look closely at the tree to the left of the trail in the previous photo you can see that it is full of woodpecker holes. This photo shows how the wind carried mushroom spores into one of those holes and they grew there, fruiting on this day or the day before. This is how fungi infect and almost always kill the trees they grow on. All it takes is a small wound, and that’s why wounds on expensive ornamental or fruit trees should be quickly treated.

When trees die they eventually fall and I saw several down across the trail. This hemlock was the largest. Note all the tree roots on the trail where the soil has washed and worn away. They can be very slippery after a rain and I slipped on them a few times on my way down the hill.

Hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata) and crowded parchment fungi (Stereum complicatum) battled for space on a fallen limb. There was plenty of room for both to the right and left but crowded parchment fungi often covers entire logs, so it wants all the space.

Yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia) gets its common name from the yellow bits of the universal veil on its orange cap. The universal veil is made of tissue and completely covers the young mushroom. As the mushroom grows it eventually breaks through the membranous veil and pieces of it are left behind on the cap. Rain can wash them off so I was surprised that they have stayed in place on this example. This mushroom is in the amanita family and is considered toxic. The amanita family contains some mushrooms that can kill if eaten, so I never eat any mushroom that I’m not 110% sure is safe. In truth I’m not crazy about mushrooms anyhow so their toxicity is a non-issue for me.

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) was showing its fall colors. This plant has small black berries but this example didn’t have any. Little is known about what animals eat the berries but it is said that the Native American Iroquois tribe used the crushed dried berries and leaves to treat convulsions in infants. Native Americans also ate the roots of the plant, which taste and smell like a cucumber. I accidentally scared a turkey away and I wondered if it was that bird eating all the berries. I also saw plenty of blueberry bushes but not a single one had a berry.

This fungus grew right on the ground and looked like it was pretending to be a pizza. I haven’t been able to identify it.

I didn’t expect the views to be very good due to the previous day’s heavy rain, so I wasn’t disappointed when they weren’t. It was very hazy but you can still see the trees; countless thousands of them. I didn’t see much leaf color yet though some seemed to be lightening up to a yellow green.

Out of several shots of the views I took this is probably the best as far as lack of haze.

As I stood scanning the trees for signs of fall color a large shadow crossed over me and when I looked up I saw a flock of what I think were turkey vultures circling silently above me. They looked to be huge, and there had to have been 7 or 8 of them. Big birds flying across the skies; throwing shadows on our eyes. These words from Neil Young’s song Helpless played in my mind as I watched them soar.

These aren’t very good photos but my getting-photos-of-birds-in-flight skills are just about nonexistent. What struck me most about these birds other than their large size was how absolutely silent they were. They never made a sound the whole time I watched them; there wasn’t even the sound of wind in their feathers even though they flew so close once or twice it seemed like I could have reached out and touched them.

Because of the previous day’s rain many of the little toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) that live up here were their natural green color and plump with plenty of moisture. When wet the greenish color of the algae that is present in the lichen comes through on the surface. The tiny black specks in its lower left corner are its disc shaped fruiting bodies, called apothecia, where its spores are busily being produced so a new generation of toadskins can get their start.

When wet toadskin lichens are rubbery and pliable and feel much like your ear lobe but when they dry out they are much like a potato chip, and will crack just as easily.  Like many lichens they also change color when they dry out, like the dry example in the above photo shows. The warts on its surface are called pustules and on the back of the lichen there is a corresponding pit for every pustule. Each lichen is attached to the rock at a single point that looks much like a belly button, so this is an umbilicate lichen. This example’s belly button is the bright spot that looks like a sun in a solar system.

I’ve written several posts about Tippin Rock, which is the 40 ton glacial erratic that lives up here, so I was going to just pass it by without taking a photo, but then I saw something I hadn’t seen before. At first I thought I had come upon one of those benevolent forest sprites whose job is guiding creatures who pass through the woods and protecting the forest, but instead it was Gus. “Are you tipping that rock?” I asked, and Gus giggled and said no, it was his father making it tip. Gus is a happy little guy who was overcome by bursts of great joy each time his father made Tippin Rock tip. It’s truly amazing to see 40 tons of granite rock gently back and forth like a baby cradle and Gus was having a ball riding the huge stone but truth be told, his dad was looking a little winded. From what I gathered Gus and his dad and their dog Annie had come up here specifically to tip the rock, and tip it did, again and again and again. Once I thought it might actually tip off its natural keel and never move again but Gus rode it out and everything was fine.

I don’t get many chances to show a person’s size in relation to the big boulder so I was grateful when Gus’s father graciously said that I could take a few photos. Gus is a very bright, joy filled five year old who is as cute as a button. He told me that he likes school and loves his teacher very much, and I told him that I’d bet that his teacher loved him right back. Gus also told me that he and his family were having a dinner party the following evening and said that I should come so he could show me around, but I left the family to their fun and headed off down the hill.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how I harp about people getting into the woods so it was a real pleasure meeting Gus and his dad and their dog Annie up there; easily the high point of my entire weekend. I hope Gus grows up to be a great lover of nature; he’s certainly off to a great start.

If you wish your children to think deep thoughts, to know the holiest emotions, take them to the woods and hills, and give them the freedom of the meadows; the hills purify those who walk upon them.  ~Richard Jefferies

Thanks for stopping in.

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I decided to take a walk through my neighborhood recently. I do this now and then when I don’t feel like driving anywhere, but also because it’s a good way to learn about everything that grows in my area. As I’ve said before if someone knocked on my door and asked where to find any one of a hundred different plants, there’s a good chance that I could lead them right to it. That’s when you know that you know a place well. The old road in the above photo cuts through a mixed hard and softwood forest of the kind that is so common here. It makes a pleasant place to walk and look.

There is a small pond nearby which over the years has gotten smaller and smaller due to the rampant growth of American burr reed (Sparganium americanum.) The plant has now cut the pond in half and I expect the far half to be completely filled in a few more years.  I’ve seen many ducks, geese, and great blue heron here in the past but they don’t seem to come very often anymore. I’ve also seen this small pond grow to 3 or 4 times its size after a heavy rain, so full that it overran its banks. That can get a little scary, because that means the one road in and out of the neighborhood can be under water.

There is a small grove of gray birch (Betula populifolia) near the pond and I often search their branches to see if any new lichens have moved in. Gray birch doesn’t have the same bright white bark that paper birches do, but lichens seem to love growing on their limbs.

Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) bloomed near the pond. This is one of our longest blooming wildflowers. It usually blooms from June right up until a hard October frost.

Flat topped white aster (Doellingeria umbellata) also bloomed near the pond. This aster can get 5 feet tall and has smallish white flowers. Its common name comes from the large, flat flower heads. Butterflies and other pollinators love it and I often wander down to where it blooms to see if there are any butterflies on it. It likes moist, sandy soil and plenty of sun, and it often droops under its own weight as it did here.

Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) winds itself among the tall stems of the flat topped white asters. It is said that bindweed purifies and cleanses the body and calms the mind. Native Americans used the plant medicinally for several ailments, including as an antidote to spider bites.

The small pond that I showed a photo of previously eventually empties into a large swamp, which is called a wetland these days. I’m guessing that beavers and muskrats keep the water way open through it; it has been this way for as long as I’ve lived in the area.

I’ve seen two odd things on staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) this year that I’ve never seen before. First, when the berries were ripening they went from green to pinkish purple to red instead of from green to red, and now they are a dark purple, which from a distance looks black. I wonder what is going on with these plants. I’ve never seen this before.

A bumblebee worked hard on Joe Pye weed blossoms. Soon the cooler nights will mean that bumblebees will be found sleeping in flowers in the morning.

Native rough hawkweed (Hieracium scabrum) is one of the last of our many hawkweeds to bloom. An unbranched single stem rises about knee high before ending in a terminal cluster of small yellow flowers. The plant blooms in full sun in late summer into early fall for about 3-4 weeks. Many species of hawkweed, both native and introduced, grow in the United States and I’d guess that we must have at least a dozen here in New Hampshire. Some of our native hawkweeds bleed a bitter white latex sap and Native Americans used to use it for chewing gum. I’m guessing that they had a way to remove the bitterness and probably found ways to flavor it too.

There is a lot of sand in this area and it is one of only two places that I know of where sand jointweed (Polygonum articulatum) grows. I didn’t see any of the tiny white flowers on this walk but I did see the plants. They should be blooming any time now and will appear in a future flower post.

I’ve found that it is close to impossible to get a photo of a forest while you’re in it. I’ve tried many times but it never seems to work. There’s just too much going on.

So since I can’t get a good photo of the forest itself instead I take photos of the things that live there, like this purple cort mushroom (Cortinarius iodeoides.) Purple corts are having an extended fruiting time which is now in its fourth week, I think. I’ve never seen so many and I’ve never seen them fruiting over such a long period of time.

Something else that’s is strange in the fungi kingdom this year is how jelly fungi like this witch’s butter (Tremella mesenterica) has fruited all summer long. I usually only see it in early spring, late fall and winter when it is colder. It could be because of all the rain I suppose; jelly fungi are almost all water. I almost always find them on stumps and logs; often on oak. After a rain is always the best time to look for them because they’re at their best when well hydrated.

We’ve had at least a day of rain each week all summer but it’s been on the dry side over the past couple weeks, so I was surprised to see this white finger slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, variety fruticulosa) growing on a log. The log was very rotten and held water like a sponge, so maybe that’s why.

There is a small glade of lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) out here and I like to stop and admire the lacy patterns they produce and how they wave in the breeze like they were on this day.

Bracken ferns (Pteridium aquilinum) are starting to show some fall color. Bracken is one of the oldest ferns; fossils date it to over 55 million years old. The plant releases chemicals which inhibit the growth of other plants and that is why large colonies of nothing but bracken fern are found. Some Native American tribes cooked and peeled the roots of bracken fern to use as food but modern science has found that all parts of the plant contain carcinogens.

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is also starting to turn. These plants sometimes turn a deep purplish maroon in fall but more often than not they go to yellow. Native Americans used the root of this plant as emergency food and it was also once used to make root beer.

Giant foxtail grass (Setaria faberi) grew in a sunny spot at the edge of the forest. This is a big annual grass that can form large colonies. Its nodding, bristly, spike like flower heads (panicles) and wide leaves make it easy to identify. The flower heads go from light green to straw colored as they age.

This walk ends in a meadow full of little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium,) which is one of my favorite grasses. I hoped to show you its flowers but it was a little early for it to be blooming. Little bluestem is a pretty native grass that is grown in gardens throughout the country. It’s very easy to grow and is drought resistant. Purplish-bronze flowers appear usually in August but they’re a little late this year here.

This was one of those perfect New England days in late summer where the spirit of autumn takes a first stealing flight, like a spy, through the ripening country-side, and, with feigned sympathy for those who droop with August heat, puts her cool cloak of bracing air about leaf and flower and human shoulders. ~Sarah Orne Jewett

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With all the rain we’ve had mushrooms are sprouting up everywhere now and, though we usually have an orange  / yellow phase followed by a purple phase, this year they all seem to be coming at the same time. I’m not sure if the orange / yellows are late or if the purples are early. Anyhow, butter wax caps (Hygrocybe ceracea) are one of the most photogenic of all mushrooms, in my opinion. They are a pretty, yellow, medium sized mushroom that almost always grows in groups.

In time the cap on butter wax cap mushrooms loses its conical shape and flattens out as if to show off its pretty yellow gills.

Hemlock varnish shelf mushrooms (Ganoderma tsugae) not surprisingly, grow on hemlock trees. This mushroom’s common name comes from its shiny red cap, which looks like it has been varnished. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

I love the colors in this bolete mushroom, which I think is the two colored bolete (Boletus bicolor.) As you can see by the photo, slugs (and maybe a squirrel or two) like it too. From what I’ve read there are several reddish colored boletes but most are small with flesh that stains blue after it has been cut or damaged. There is only one with flesh that stays yellow when damaged and that is the two colored bolete. This example was large, with the diameter of a cantaloupe.

Another pretty mushroom is the purple cort (Cortinarius iodeoides.) The caps always look wet but they aren’t-they are slimy, and that’s why they often have leaves, pine needles, and other forest debris stuck to them. This one was surprisingly clean.

Purple corts often lose their sliminess and develop white or yellow streaks as they age and this is a good way to identify them. They always look psychedelic to me at this stage and remind me of the 60s, but I’d never eat one. The taste is said to be very bitter.

Common earth ball (Scleroderma citrinum) is a type of puffball that I can’t say is real common here. I see maybe one or two each year. Another name for it is the pigskin poison puffball because it is toxic. It likes to grow on compacted soil like that found on forest trails. They often have a yellow color on their surface and are also called citrine earth balls because of it. I found one last year that was a beautiful lemon yellow.

Black jelly drops (Bulgaria inquinans) grew on an oak log. Though these fungi are also called poor man’s licorice they aren’t edible and depending on what you read, might be poisonous. I’ve read that in parts of China they are considered a delicacy but it sounds to me like they’re best left alone.

Though they look and feel like gumdrops in a velvet cup black jelly drops are not jelly fungi; they are sac fungi. Their fertile surface is shiny, and the dark brown outsides of the cup look like felt. This mushroom is sometimes used for dying fabric in mostly blacks and browns, purples and grays. It is thought that the Bulgaria part of the scientific name might refer to a leathery skin, like a wine skin.

This is what black jelly fungi look like when they’re young. They’re very small and hard to see because they blend into the color of the surrounding bark so well. They are usually found on oak trees that have been felled and cut up for firewood, and that is exactly where I found these examples. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this fungus.

Dead man’s fingers (Xylaria polymorphaare) are a type of fungi that often look like a human finger. As they age dead man’s finger fungi begin to darken. The lighter areas on them are covered with spores that are produced in early stages of their development. These fungi cause soft rot in the wood they grow on. 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 out of the soil but there was probably an unseen log or tree roots that they were actually growing on.

I’m not positive but I think this crust fungus is a young example of the netted crust fungus. Netted crust fungi (Byssomerulius corium) are common and grow on the undersides of branches. The corium part of the scientific name means skin or hide, and refers to the skin-like growth of this fungus. Quite often bracket or shelf like growths will form along its edges. This fungus has tiny net-like ridges in its surface, and that’s how the netted crust comes by its common name.

It’s hard to do a post on fungi without including mycelium. 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 part that we see. The mycelium in the above photo grew just under last year’s leaves. Mycelium growths can be among 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 as the world’s largest known organism. It is thought to be between 2,400 and 8,650 years old.

Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi) grew at the base of a tree. These are some of the biggest mushrooms that I’ve seen and I put a quarter on this one so you could see just how big it was. A quarter is about an inch across.  This large bracket fungus often reaches two feet across. It grows on the roots of hardwood trees and causes butt rot in the tree’s heartwood. The wood turns white before rotting away and leaving a standing hollow tree.

Pine dye polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is also called the velvet topped fungus because of its velvety feel. These large bracket fungi are parasitic on the roots and heartwood of living white pines in the eastern U.S. and cause root and heart rot. I usually find them on logs or roots but I found these examples on the trunk of a live tree, and that means its death sentence. This fungus changes color as it ages and can be any one of several different colors. A lot of those I see are a deep, beautiful red/ maroon color. If found when young they can be used to dye wool a soft yellow or orange color, and older examples will dye wool brown. This mushroom has the odd habit of sprouting “baby mushrooms” from its cap.

Shaggy parasol mushroom (Chlorophyllum rhacodes) has shaggy brown scales on a white background on its cap, but this example is shaggier than any photo I’ve seen of one so this identification has to be taken with a grain of salt. I found this example growing in deep shade by an old stump.

And that reminds me of something that I should say in every mushroom post: It is never a good idea to eat any mushroom you aren’t 100 percent sure of because there are mushrooms that can kill, and people still do die and / or get very sick from eating them each year despite all the warnings. In June of last year 14 people in San Francisco were poisoned by eating death cap mushrooms (amanita phalloides,) one of the deadliest mushrooms known. Three of them needed liver transplants, including an 18-month-old girl. It seems unbelievable to me that there are still people out there who don’t know the dangers of mushroom poisoning but every year I read stories just like this one.

Coral mushrooms come in many colors, sizes, and shapes. This one was as big as a baseball. I think it might be a golden coral (Ramaria aurea) but as my mushroom books say, there are so many similar coral mushrooms that it’s hard to tell them apart without a microscope. I just enjoy seeing them.

Since this coral fungus has sprouted on a stump and not from the ground I think it might be crown coral (Clavicorona pyxidata.) Crown coral branches end in a tiny little crown, just like what is seen here.

Yellow finger coral fungi (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) look like tiny yellow flames licking up out of the forest floor. Each finger might reach an inch high and grow in tight clusters, while look alikes do not. They are also called spindle corals and like to grow in the hard packed earth along forest trails. It is for that reason that I often find them stepped on and broken, but these examples were in good condition. They are said to have flesh that is very bitter.

Jelly babies (Leotia lubrica) look like a mushroom with a stem and a cap but if you look under the cap you won’t see any gills or pores. Despite their name jelly babies are sac fungi rather than jelly fungi and their spores are produced on the upper surface of the cap rather than on gill or pore surfaces. The caps might feel smooth, clammy or slimy and can be green, tan, orange or yellow. Stems also vary in color.

Jelly Babies grow on the soil or on well-rotted wood in both hardwood and conifer forests and are very small. This entire group would easily fit on a quarter, which is about an inch in diameter. On a good day a jelly baby might reach 2.5 inches tall, but they’re usually about an inch tall in my experience, with a cap that might grow as large as a pea. Jelly babies are both friend and teacher to me because they showed me an entire Lilliputian world that I never knew existed. One day I sat on a stone and looked down and there they were, the cutest little bunch of fungi I had ever seen, and they made me wonder what other tiny things I’d been missing. Since that day I’ve been paying attention and looking closer, and I’ve seen things that I couldn’t have ever imagined.

I usually come away from mushroom hunting with a few unknowns, and this one fits perfectly into that slot for this post. It’s a pretty little thing that must have won first prize; it looks like the forest elves have given it a blue ribbon.

The sudden appearance of mushrooms after a summer rain is one of the more impressive spectacles of the plant world. ~John Tyler Bonner

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We had a day with blue skies, puffy white clouds, and low heat and humidity so I thought I’d take advantage of such a fine day by climbing Mount Caesar in Swanzey. The mountain it is said, is named after a freed slave named Caesar Freeman and he is supposed to be buried somewhere on it, but nobody really seems to be able to verify any of the tale. One thing about the mountain is certain; Native Americans used it for a lookout and in the mid-1700s they burned Swanzey to the ground, house by house and mill by mill. The climb to the top starts on a path of solid granite bedrock, as is seen in the photo.

One of my favorite things to see on Mount Caesar is this river of reindeer lichen. Since there are no reindeer or other animals to eat the lichens they thrive here. But they are fragile and should never be walked on.  Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades for drifts like the one pictured to reappear. The Native American Ojibwa tribe was known to bathe newborns in water in which reindeer lichens had been boiled.

Just before you enter the forest there is a meadow teeming with wildflowers. On this day most of what was blooming were pale spike lobelias (Lobelia spicata,) which get their common name from the small, pale blue to almost white flowers. Every now and then you can find a plant with deeper blue flowers, but most are pale.

Sometimes if you look carefully you can find dark blue pale spike lobelias, as this one was. These flowers are small; hardly bigger than a standard aspirin. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for lobelia and one of them was as a treatment for asthma, but it has to be used with great care because too much of it can kill.

Stone walls will follow you almost all the way to the summit of Mount Caesar and remind hikers that this land was once completely cleared of trees. I’d guess that sheep once grazed on the mountain’s flanks, as was true of most of the hills in the area. The walls most likely date from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Not old enough to be covered by moss yet but there certainly are plenty of lichens on them. The yellow ones seen in the photo are sulfur dust lichens (Chrysothrix chlorina). This lichen doesn’t like to be rained on so it is usually found hiding under some type of overhang.

I saw many mushrooms on this climb, among them yellow chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius.) I’m not a real mushroom aficionado but I know this edible mushroom is considered choice. I don’t see many but when I do it’s usually about this time of year or a little earlier, and I always see them growing right alongside trails. It is believed by some that the compacted earth of the trail or road may cause the chanterelle mycelium to react by fruiting.

Another mushroom I saw in great abundance was yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia,) and it is not a choice edible fungus, in fact it is poisonous and should never be eaten. This mushroom is identified by the chrome yellow “warts” on the cap, which are easily brushed off. It prefers growing in hemlock forests, so it is right at home here. It is said to be one of the most common and widespread species of Amanita in eastern North America. It faintly resembles yellow fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) but that mushroom has white warts on its cap.

I’ve seen people go up to the summit and then back down again in the time it took me to reach the half way point but this isn’t a race and I dawdle and wander, looking at this and that all the way up and down the mountain. A 45 minute climb with me can easily take half a day, and that’s why I almost always hike alone. To see the kinds of things that I see you absolutely must walk slowly and from what I’ve seen most people simply aren’t able to do it. Unfortunately most people I’ve seen and spoken with in places like this seem to feel that the end of the trail is far more important than what can be seen along it and race through it. If only they knew that they were missing all of the best that nature has to offer.

Eastern teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens,) bloomed all along the trail. This native wintergreen is in the same family as the blueberry and its flowers show that. Teaberry is also known as checkerberry or American wintergreen and by fall its flowers will have turned into small red berries that taste minty, like Teaberry chewing gum. Many animals, from foxes to chipmunks, and birds including grouse and pheasant rely on the berries to help them get through the winter. Wintergreen oil has been used medicinally for centuries, and the leaves make an excellent, soothing tea. The plant’s fragrance is unmistakable and its oil is used in toothpaste, mouthwash, pain relievers, and many other products.

Before too long the approach to the summit appears as granite bedrock, and that’s when you realize that this mountain is just a huge piece of solid granite with a few inches of soil covering it. I’ve seen several trees that have blown over and their roots were very shallow. They have to be because they can’t penetrate the granite.

I like a few clouds in the sky to give it some interest. A year or two ago we had an entire summer of blue skies with not a cloud to be seen, and it was quite boring if you wanted landscape photos. I like the way the shadows of the clouds pass over the land. It’s something I’ve watched and enjoyed since I was a boy.

The view was hazy in some directions but I usually spend time marveling at how vast this forest really is, so I don’t mind a little haze.

Mount Monadnock could be seen through the haze off to the east but it wasn’t a day for mountain portraits.

You need to watch where you step when you’re taking photos of the mountain because you have to get close to the edge of the cliff if you want the best shot. This is one time when it isn’t wise to step outside of yourself and become totally absorbed by what you see before you. It’s a long way down and for someone who doesn’t like heights it’s a stomach knotter, and I tread very mindfully up here.

I was surprised to see so many old friends up here, like this bristly sarsaparilla. It made me wonder if it has just moved in or if I have been negligent and ignored it on previous climbs. It obviously likes it up here; it was blooming well. It normally grows in dry, sandy soil at road edges and waste areas. Its stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. Technically, though it looks like a perennial plant, it is considered a shrub because the lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter.

Each tiny bristly sarsaparilla flower will become a round black berry if the pollinators do their job and it looked like they were hard at it. I’m not sure what this insect’s name is but it was very small. The entire flower head of the plant in the previous photo is barely bigger than a ping pong ball.

Blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) also grew on the summit. It seems like I’m seeing this little beauty everywhere I go this summer and it makes me wonder if it doesn’t like a lot of rain like we’ve had this year, even though it grows in sandy waste areas.

Zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) was a real surprise because it usually grows in wooded areas instead of out in the open.  It has wide leaves and smallish flowers that grow from the leaf axils and at the terminal end of its zigzagging stem.  Zigzag goldenrod grows in the shade and prefers moist soil, so this seems like an odd place to have found it. It grew beside a large stone so maybe the stone keeps it shaded for part of the day.

We had torrential rains the day before I made this climb so I thought my little friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) would be happy, but most of them weren’t. I don’t know if they just dried out that quickly or if overhanging tree branches kept the rain off them. They grow in just about full sun so I suppose they could have simply dried out. The example in the above photo was close to what I expected but it still wasn’t that deep, pea green color and I could tell that it was drying out. When at their best these lichens are very pliable and feel like an ear lobe, but when dry they feel crisp like a potato chip. This one was somewhere in between.

This one was ashy gray and very dry. You can see the broken edges top and bottom where it has snapped like a brittle chip. I have to say that, though I doubt the lichens enjoy being in such a state, I think they’re at their most beautiful when they look like this. I wish I could see them every day so I could witness all of their changes but I’ve seen them only on the summits, so if you want to visit with them you have to work for the privilege.

To those who have struggled with them, the mountains reveal beauties that they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again. The mountains reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits. Sir Francis Younghusband

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Last year at about this time I took a walk around Goose Pond in Keene and found some great slime molds. Two years ago I walked around the pond and found the only northern club spur orchid I’ve seen, so last Saturday, with exciting thoughts of what I might find this year, off I went. Surrounding the beautiful pond is a vast 500 acre tract of forest that has been left nearly untouched since the mid-1800s. It’s a wilderness area, and it’s just 2.6 miles from downtown Keene.

Goose Pond was called Crystal Lake by some in the 1860s, and was also known as Sylvan Lake in the 1900s. Keene had a major fire in 1865 and the town well and cisterns failed to provide enough water to put it out, so dams were built to enlarge the pond to 42 acres. Wooden pipe was laid to 48 hydrants by 1869. The city stopped using the pond as a water supply in the 1930s and in 1984 designated the forest as a wilderness area. Today it is mainly used by hikers, fishermen, swimmers, mountain bikers and snowshoers. I get to the pond by following the old access road.

This forest wasn’t completely untouched. Stone walls tell of its agricultural use sometime in the past but judging by some of the thick mosses on some of the stones it was far in the past.

This partially buried stone isn’t natural with a perfect 90 degree angle like that; it was carved. Stone carving wasn’t done by just anyone and it didn’t come cheap, so I’m guessing that at some time this was an important stone. Possibly a gate or fence post but it seems too smooth for what was normally left rather rough hewn.

Light filters through the pines and hemlocks to reach the forest floor in places but in many areas the canopy is woven together so thickly that It can be  very dark, and that can make photography a real challenge. Can you see the trail through here? If you visit Goose Pond you’ll want to be able to; I met a man and a couple who were confused about which way to go. The couple said they kept wandering off the trail and I told them that wasn’t a good idea in a 500 acre forest, so they’d better watch for the white blazes on the trees. The trail is clearly marked; you can see the single white rectangular blaze on a skinny tree at just to the left of center in this photo.

Yellow fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) grew on a mossy log. I saw several examples all along the trail but most had been partially eaten by slugs or squirrels. Amanita muscaria also comes in white, pink, brown, orange, and bright red but we see mostly yellow ones here. No matter what color they are fly agaric fungi are  considered slightly toxic and hallucinogenic. The name fly agaric comes from its once being used to kill flies (and other insects) in parts of Europe. It was dried, powdered and sprinkled into a pan of milk, which was left out for flies. In medieval times people believed that flies could enter a person’s head and cause mental illness.

I saw two or three examples of coral mushrooms in the forest and all were of the pale yellow / tan variety. I see this mushroom every year but coral fungi can be very hard to identify and I’ve never felt confident in naming it. I think the yellow tipped coral (Ramaria formosa) fits best, because it first appears in July and grows under conifers throughout the northern U.S.

Mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) grows all through this forest but this was the only one that had fruit on it. Soon they will become purple-black berries that will be about the size of raisins. I’ve heard that they don’t taste very good, but many birds and animals eat them. They disappear quickly.

How I’d love to be able to get onto the island to see what grows there but since you’d have to hand carry a kayak uphill for quite a distance it’s doubtful that I ever will. I saw a couple in kayaks on this day but I think they must be made of sturdier stock than I am. I just don’t have the breath for it.

This view shows the uphill climb that you’d have to make with a kayak to visit the island. Just carrying myself up it is enough for me.

A few years ago I found a tree with a strange zig zagging scar in its bark, and now here is another one. Many readers think that it must have been caused by lightning but nobody really seems to know for sure. This one ran up the tree for probably 12 feet or more. There is a pine tree here that was  definitely struck by lightning and that scar runs straight up and down and is probably two inches wide. The lightning strike blew the bark right off the trunk and roots all the way into the ground. I came upon it shortly after it was hit and saw strips of bark lying all over the ground around it.

Several small streams cross the trail and in 3 places they’re wide enough so that bridges had to be built. This one sags a bit on that far left corner but it works.

I was hoping to see some slime molds and I wasn’t disappointed. Fuligo septica is a species of plasmodial slime mold that is one of the most common. It is called scrambled egg slime because that’s exactly what it can look like in certain stages of its growth. It gets quite big and is the one slime mold that will grow in full sun on wood mulch or bark chips, so it is easily seen and is often people’s first introduction to slime molds. Fuligo septica produces the largest spore-producing structure of any known slime mold.

Scrambled egg slime mold is the perfect name for this one. According to mycologist Tom Volk of the University of Wisconsin, a plasmodium is essentially a blob of protoplasm without cell walls and only a cell membrane to keep everything in. It is really nothing but a large amoeba and feeds much the same way, by engulfing its food, which are mostly bacteria, spores of fungi and plants, protozoa, and particles of nonliving organic matter. Many people seem to get the heebie jeebies over slime molds but they’re a very important part of the ecosystem. It isn’t hard to imagine what this world would be like without decomposers like fungi and slime molds doing their work.

Scrambled egg slime mold can change color as well as form. I’ve seen it turn white or gray and get as hard as a log. I’ve also seen it weep blood red tears. I’ve seen photos of it where it was tan, pale yellow, yellowish gray, gray, brown, and cream colored. The example in the above photo is turning gray and hardening. Before long it will begin to fracture and break down into a powdery brown mass. The brown powder is the slime mold’s spores and it’s always best not to inhale them. Or fungal spores either; some of them can make you very sick.

Blueberries are doing well this year. These examples were lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium,) which often seem to ripen slightly before highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum.) The bears will be happy.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) grew in a sunny spot on the shore line. This plant almost always grows near water and in this case it couldn’t have been much closer to it.

I was very surprised to see a few examples of shining sumac (Rhus copallinum) here, especially when I realized that I must have been walking right by them for years. I’ve only seen this plant in one other place so it seems to be on the rare side in this area. It is also called flame leaf sumac, dwarf sumac, or winged sumac. These shrubs were about knee high but I’ve read that they can reach about 8-10 feet. The foliage is said to turn brilliant orange-red in fall, so I’m going to have to come back in the fall for a photo shoot.

The name “winged sumac” comes from the wings that form on the stems between each pair of leaves. I’ve never seen this on any other sumac.

Shining sumac flowers are greenish yellow and tiny, and are followed by clusters of red fruits that stay on the shrub through winter like other sumacs. This small tree is often used as an ornamental in cities and along highways, mostly for its fall color.

Well, it was a beautiful day for a walk and I found everything I hoped I would. I don’t have an orchid to show you but I did find one. The northern club spur orchid I found two years ago was here again but it wasn’t blooming yet, so I’ll have to show it to you later. It isn’t a showy plant but is interesting nonetheless, and I hope to find it blooming today.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

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