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Posts Tagged ‘Summer Fungi’

The weather people promised a fine summer day recently, with temperatures in the 70s F. and low humidity, so I knew it was a day to make a climb. I chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey because as I looked through this year’s blog posts I was surprised to find that I hadn’t climbed it at all this year. To get to the trailhead you cross this meadow.

The last time I was here there were two planks across this wet area. Now there were four and with all the rain we’ve had this year, I wasn’t surprised. I gave a silent word of thanks to the kind person who put them here.

Though there were other wet places along the trail most of it was dry and easy going, and it was a beautiful morning to be in the woods.

I saw one of my favorite clubmosses, fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum.) The plant gets its common name from the way its branches fan out in a 180-degree arc at the top of the stem. Another common name is ground cedar because of its resemblance to the cedar tree. At one time this and other clubmosses were used to make Christmas wreaths and were collected almost into oblivion, but they seem to be making a fairly good comeback. A single plant can take 20 years or more to grow from spore to maturity, so they should never be disturbed. Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all. They are vascular plants that don’t flower; they produce spores instead of seeds and are considered “fern allies.” Fossils have been found that show the lowly clubmosses once grew to 100 feet tall.

I was surprised to find a checkered rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera tesselata) here, growing right at the edge of the trail. Though it is a woodland orchid it is not as common as its cousin the downy rattlesnake plantain, which I see regularly. It had flowered earlier but they had gone by. This plant was very small; easily small enough to fit in a teacup with room to spare, so you can probably imagine how small its flowers are. They look like tiny white teapots and are pollinated by bumblebees, halictid bees and syrphid flies.

The sun shining on these black birch leaves stopped me for a bit. There are lots of black birch trees here, I’m happy to say. They were once harvested nearly into oblivion so they could be pulped to make oil of wintergreen. If you ever wonder what kind of tree you’re seeing, cherry or birch, just scratch off a bit of bark and sniff. If you smell wintergreen, you have a black birch (Betula lenta.) It is also called sweet birch or cherry birch. The trees can be tapped like sugar maples in spring and the fermented sap made into birch beer.

Yellow finger coral fungi are round like spaghetti but these were flat so I think they were a club coral, possibly Clavulinopsis helvola. They grow in tight clusters, often fused at the base. They are said to taste very bitter, which might explain why animals never seem to touch them. They were beautiful, backlit by the sun as they were.

The reason club and coral fungi grow the way they do is to get their spores, which grow on their tips, up above the soil surface so the wind can disperse them. They grew all the way up the hill, scattered throughout the woods, looking like little flames licking up out of the soil. I’ve never seen so many in one place.

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) also grew in good numbers, and many had ripe fruit like this one. Those plants that produce fruit usually have a bright crimson patch on the leaves just under the berries. I’ve often wondered if it was there to attract birds or animals to the fruit. 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 from the plants once and I wondered if it was that bird eating the berries. They do disappear.

What a beautiful day it was. My lungs were working well, probably due to the cooler weather, so I didn’t have any trouble climbing. This climb is steadily uphill but it isn’t steep. I think a young person could probably be up and down in a half hour, but then they’d miss so much.

I saw probably fifty or more honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea) growing on a fallen tree and I was glad they weren’t on a living, standing tree. Bootstrap fungus is caused by honey mushrooms, which are parasitic on live wood and send out long root like structures called rhizomorphs between the wood of a tree and its bark. When fresh the rhizomorphs are cream colored but darken to brown or black as they age. The fungus is also called armillaria root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees.

A ray of sunlight caught a pretty little purple cort mushroom (Cortinarius iodeoides,) fruiting far later than usual. It might seem odd to see a mushroom in sunlight but most everything in the forest gets at least some sun, if just for a few moments each day.

Ridged tooth fungi (Hydnellum scrobiculatum) grew here and there nearer the summit. This one is tough; they feel hard and non-yielding to the touch. The common name comes from the ridges on the cap margins. It’s a very unusual woodland mushroom that likes to grow near pines. Because it’s so tough nothing touches it, so they last for quite a while.

The “tooth” part of the name becomes apparent when you turn a ridged tooth fungus over. Instead of gills it has spines packed closely together. They are said to start out kind of purplish-brown but these were more of a tan so I’d guess that the color fades as they age. That’s common among fungi.

Something I’ve wanted to see for a very long time is the black earth tongue fungus so today was a lucky, fungus filled day. This fungus is very rare in my experience though I’ve read that it is widely distributed. This example might have been an inch tall at best and was club shaped. It grew on a well-rotted tree stump and for that reason I think it must be the common earth tongue (Geoglossum cookeanum.) At first I thought it was the viscid black earthtongue (Glutinoglossum glutinosum,) but that species only grows in soil. I’ve read that the only way to be sure is by microscopic examination of its spores. It is one of the sac fungi and feels very tough and leathery.

Another mushroom I’ve never seen is a pretty one called the painted suillus (Suillus spraguei.) It is also called the painted slippery cap and red and yellow suillus. The caps are dark red when young and develop yellowish cracks as they age. They also have mats of reddish hairs on the cap, according to what I’ve read. They are said to have a mycorrhizal relationship with pine trees, particularly the eastern white pine, so it makes perfect sense that it would grow here.

The sunlight brought out the velvety sheen in this tiger eye fungus (Coltricia cinnamomea.) It was beautiful, with its concentric rings of colors. They are also called fairy stools or sometimes cinnamon fairy stools because of the bands of cinnamon orangey brown coloring on their caps. Previously their scientific name was Coltricia perennis but names are changing all the time these days. The Coltricia part of the scientific name means seat or couch and perennis means perennial.

And there was the 40-ton glacial erratic called Tippin’ Rock, which will rock back and forth like a baby cradle when pushed in the right spot. I thought the story was just a fairy tale until I saw it move, and then I thought it was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. When you start thinking of all the things that had to happen for this stone to be able to do that, it kind of blows your mind.

When I saw the puffy white clouds in the sky I knew this would be a good day for views, and I wasn’t disappointed. They add a lot of interest to what is otherwise a flat blue sky, and I’ve always loved to sit and watch their shadows moving across the hills below. Sometimes they creep and other times they speed by.

Sitting with your back against a stone, watching the cloud shadows gliding silently across the landscape, hearing the soft whisper of the wind in the trees, it’s easy to believe that you have it all. All is perfection, and there isn’t a thing you would change, even if you could.

I keep telling myself that I’ll climb to the top of the ledges so I can say that I was at the very top of 912-foot Hewe’s Hill but by the time I get there doing so has lost its importance. I also realize that I can’t be absolutely sure that this point is the highest, but I’ve never seen anything higher from where I stood. It’s impressive.

Lichens and mosses taught me to watch for vertical streams. Where water runs down the bark of trees after a rain for example, is where you’ll often find the most mosses and lichens growing. They grow on either side of the channel, just as if they grew on the banks of a stream. And here it was again, on a much larger scale. There is a water source somewhere above that drips water continuously down the face of the ledge and, since lichens need to be moist to be at their best, that’s where they grow. These are mostly rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) and toadskin (Lasallia papulosa) lichens, each umbilicate lichens.

There is little in nature that seems happier than a wet lichen, unless it is two squirrels playing tag. This toadskin lichen was in its glory; pea green, as rubbery as your ear lobe, and producing spores like there was no tomorrow.

These lichens, away from the dripping water source, didn’t look so happy. They were ashen and stiff, just hanging on waiting for rain. And umbilicate lichens really do hang on. They attach themselves to the stone at a single point and hang like a rag from a peg. Nothing illustrates that better than that rock tripe lichen in the center. It actually looks like a rag hanging from a peg. You can see the attachment point in these lichens as bright white spots in this photo. That single attachment point reminded whoever sorted these lichens into their little pigeonholes of their bellybutton, hence the name umbilicate.

And on the way back down there was Mister Smiley Face. He was here for years and then he disappeared so I thought someone had thrown him into the woods but no, he had just been moved up the hill a little further. He’s covered with moss now but still smiling. I found myself smiling too, happy to see him after so long but at the same time wondering when this chunk of log became a “him” and gained a name. I can’t remember but it doesn’t matter. It always makes me smile.

To see what others cannot…
You must climb the mountain.

~Ron Akers

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We’ve had so much rain that now, for the first time since I started this blog, I’m able to do a third summer mushroom post. Usually I might be able to do two in summer and one in the fall, so rain does indeed encourage fungal growth. The coral mushrooms have come along now, as this white coral shows. I think it is one called the crested coral fungus (Clavulina cristata.) Many coral fungi seem to appear more towards the end of summer, I’ve noticed.

Crown coral fungi are common and often get quite big. They also often grow in large groups. I think this pale orangey one might be crown tipped coral (Clavicorona pyxidata.) I’ve seen these get as big as grapefruits, with several of them growing in a large circle.

Yellow spindle or finger coral fungi (Ramariopsis laeticolor) can also grow in large groups. The taller ones might reach an inch and a half high and their diameter is often close to a piece of cooked spaghetti, but I’ve seen a few with larger diameters. 

Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is also called the velvet topped fungus because of its hairy appearance. These fungi are parasitic on the roots and heartwood of living white pines in the eastern U.S. and cause root rot. This fungus changes color as it ages and becomes a beautiful deep maroon / reddish color. If found when young like this one it can be used to dye wool a soft yellow or orange and older example will dye wool brown, and that’s where its common name comes from.

This is a dyer’s polypore in midlife. It looks a bit like a raspberry filled pastry to me at this stage. Or maybe I’m just hungry.

And this is what an older dyer’s polypore looks like. As you can see the color difference between young and old examples is dramatic. Some of these mushrooms can get quite large but this one was only about 4 inches across. It was also wet from rain; it’s usually fuzzy like velvet. Though they sometimes look as if they’re growing on the ground, they’re really growing on conifer roots or buried logs. This sequence of photos probably covers about two weeks in the life of this mushroom. Eventually they just disappear, but woe will befall the pine tree they grow on.

Turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) are one of the most colorful fungi in the forest. They are also one of the easiest to find, because they grow in nearly every state in the country and throughout Europe, Asia. and Russia. I especially like turkey tails because they can be found all year long. And they grow exclusively on wood; though it looks like they were growing in grass here there was a buried root that we can’t see. Next time you walk in the forest if you pay attention to any stumps and logs you might see, you’re liable to find some turkey tails on them.

This large clump of turkey tails showed off their beautiful color range perfectly, I thought. Finding something like this in the middle of winter is like finding flowers in a desert.

Violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis) looks a little like the turkey tail fungus and I’m fairly certain that I have misidentified it as such here on this blog. Once you get to know the two though, it’s obvious that the purple edges on these are not found on turkey tails.

When young the undersides of violet toothed polypores are a beautiful lilac purple color but then it fades to brown, as is seen here. It’s easy to see where the “toothed” part of the common name comes from. The teeth on toothed fungi are usually simply folds of tissue that hang like teeth. With mushrooms it’s all about increasing the spore bearing surface, be it by gill, pore or folded tissue because more spores mean a better likelihood of the continuation of the species. This fungus and others like it are decomposers of wood. They are part of the reason the floors of our forests aren’t buried under fallen branches and logs, so we should be happy to have them with us.

I like to look at dead mushrooms because I often find that some are as beautiful in death as they were in life. I loved the colors and wave like contours I saw in this one. It had a lot of movement and I’d love to paint it, if I was still painting.

The shingled hedgehog (Sarcodon imbricatus.) How’s that for a name? It’s easy to see where the shingled part comes from but I’m not sure about the hedgehog part. The cap is brownish, with darker scales. It is also a toothed fungus, with grayish teeth rather than pores or gills on the spore bearing underside of the cap. It is said to like growing near spruce but I found it near hemlocks.

Here is an older example of the shingled hedgehog. Their caps curl as they age. Other names are scaly hedgehog, hawk’s wing and scaly urchin. I’ve read that no other mushroom looks quite like it and I can believe that.

I found the old man of the woods (Strobilomyces strobilaceus) growing between the fork of a fallen branch. This shaggy looking mushroom is a bolete, with pores instead of gills. The soft, dark gray or black overlapping scales on the cap give it a kind of hairy look, and that’s where the common name comes from. The stem is also quite hairy. I always see this mushroom growing alone, never in groups. They grow on the ground and I’ve read that they like to grow near oaks, though I’ve never paid close enough attention to notice. I think this is the first time I’ve shown it here.

There are various species of bird’s nest fungi but the only ones I ever find are the fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus.) They like to grow on wood and I found many hundreds of them growing in wood chips recently. I’ve also seen them in mulch and on old stumps. They’re beautiful and unusual little things, hairy brown on the outside and kind of silvery gray on the inside.

Bird’s nest fungi also very small; a pea wouldn’t fit in any of these examples. They’re called bird’s nests because of the “eggs” you find inside. The “bird’s nest” is actually a splash cup called a peridium and when a drop of rain falls into it with enough force the “eggs” are splashed out. These eggs are really disc shaped spore cases called peridioles. Once ejected from the splash cup the peridioles degrade over time to release the spores.

Black chanterelles (Craterellus cornucopioides) are also called deep purple horn of plenty or purple trumpet mushrooms and don’t seem common, but there are certain spots where hundreds of them grow. They are considered a great delicacy by mushroom hunters and I was told that they can sell for $50.00 per pound to restaurants. Because of their color mushroom hunters complain that they’re very hard to see but for a change I think colorblindness serves me well, because I can see them without any difficulty. I’ve read that colorblind people can “see through” camouflage. Maybe it’s true.

The spore bearing surface of this mushroom is a very beautiful color but it isn’t easy to see while they’re standing.

This shot shows the color range you can expect to see on black chanterelles. It also shows why some might find them hard to find. They do blend into the leaf litter quite well.

A friend at work told me about some mushrooms growing near a tree and when I went to look, I was stunned! I’ve seen Jack O’ lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus olearius) before but never this many. They were growing on this tree, which was an old maple, and its roots. They were big and beautiful. Pumpkin orange and some as big as my hand.

I’ve read that people mistake Jack O’ lanterns for chanterelles but to me the two look very different. For one thing chanterelles grow on the ground, never on wood, and they usually grow singly or two or three, not in huge colonies like these. Also, Jack O’ lantern gills are very thin and straight, and don’t fork. If you happen to forage for mushrooms this would be a good one to get to know well, because though it won’t kill you, I’ve read that it can make you very sick for a couple of days. In North America, there are over 40 species of chanterelle and chanterelle-like mushrooms.

The Jack O’ lanterns grew completely around the tree and also grew from its roots. There must have been many hundreds, and it was an amazing sight. An interesting fact about Jack O’ lanterns is how their gills are bioluminescent and glow an eerie green color in the dark. Anyone walking here at night would have been in for a big surprise. I’ve read that when the mycelium threads through the wood they grow on it is sometimes also bioluminescent, and in the Middle Ages people were very suspicious and frightened of the logs they saw glowing at night. They called the eerie light foxfire.

I scratched around in the leaves near where some Jack O lanterns were growing on the tree’s roots and found white mycelium but I haven’t been able to confirm that it is actually from the Jack O’ lanterns because the internet and my books are staying very quiet about what color Jack O’ lantern mycelium is.  

The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper. ~W. B. Yeats

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Last Saturday more showers and thunderstorms were in the forecast so I didn’t want to be exploring any mountaintops. Instead I went to Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene, where I knew there would be plenty of interesting things to see.

Beaver Brook itself was high. With hurricane Henri supposed to pay us a visit over the coming days I was hoping to see lower water levels, because we had so much rain through July there simply isn’t anyplace left for the water to go. I met an old timer up here once who said he had seen the water come up over the road years ago, but I’m hoping I never see that. Keene would be in real trouble if this brook got that high now.

NOTE: Henri came and went while I was putting this post together and though there was rain, thankfully there was no serious flooding in this region.  

I thought I might see blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) blooming but no, it’s going to wait a while, apparently. Its stems usually grow vertically until the flowers begin to open and then they fall over into a more horizontal position, but these had already fallen. Its yellow blooms grow in tufts all along the stem so it’s an unusual goldenrod. It isn’t considered rare but I know of only one or two places where it grows. It is also called wreath goldenrod.

There are also lots of white wood asters (Aster divaricatus) here. They are fairly common at this time of year but they start blooming in August, so by first frost most of them have already finished.

Lots of jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) grows here too, all along the old road, and most of the plants were blooming heavily. This plant had flowers in pairs, which I don’t usually see.

This one had its legs crossed, and that’s something I’ve never seen before. How strange. It’s as if it wanted to close off the access to its nectar. This plant typically blossoms right up until a frost but as day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds.

Smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) is one of the most beautiful lichens that I’ve seen and it does well here on the ledges. The beautiful blue / turquoise spore producing apothecia against the golden color of the body (thallus) are very striking. But light has everything to do with it; the way it reflects off the waxy coating on the apothecia are what turns them blue. Come here when the lichen is in the shade and they’ll be a smoky gray.

I don’t visit the lichens and mosses that grow on these ledges quite as freely as I once did, and this is why. This ledge collapsed a couple of years ago but more stone has fallen since. The trees above are being undercut now so they’ll fall one day as well. All along this old road if you look carefully, you’ll see seams of fractured and crumbling soft stone which is usually feldspar, running through the ledge faces. I stay away from them now for the most part. Any fallen stone in this photo is easily big enough to crush a person. It must have been a mighty roar.

One of the best examples of a frost crack I know of is on a golden birch that lives next to the brook here, and I wanted to get a photo of it. Much to my surprise the spot where I used to stand to get photos of it is now in the brook, so I was teetering on the edge when I took this one. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree and the cells just under the bark expand. If nighttime temperatures are cold enough the bark will cool and contract rapidly, quicker than the wood underneath, and this stress on the bark can cause it to crack. I like this one because of the difference in color between the bark of the tree and the healing crack. It stands out beautifully and if you happen to be trying to explain frost cracks, that’s what you want.

I tried not to look down while I was hanging onto a tree with one arm and taking photos of the frost crack with the other, but since I had the camera out anyway…

While most other maples have dropped their seeds, mountain maple seeds (Acer spicatum) haven’t ripened yet. There are quite a few of these trees here but this is one of only two places I’ve seen them. At a glance the big leaves look much like striped maple leaves (Acer pensylvanicum.)

The sky was all sun and clouds and it was beautiful here. The no passing lines still on the abandoned road always seem kind of ironic to me because the only thing passing here now is time. To think my father and I used to drive through here when I was a boy. Of course the trees and undergrowth didn’t come right up to the road edge then though, so it must have seemed a much wider corridor. I can’t really remember much about it. Some people say the road was abandoned when the new Route 9 was built in the 60s and some say it was in the very early 70s but I’ve never been able to get a solid date, even from the highway department.

I was finally able to get both the leaves and flowers of big leaf aster in the same shot. The flower stalks rise about 2 feet above the leaves so you have to know a little about depth of field for a shot like this. I’m noticing more and more that these flowers are purple, when just a few years ago almost all of them I saw were white.

I’m not seeing the number of blackberries that I used to, and what I do see seem smaller now. This one looked more like a black raspberry though the canes I saw certainly were blackberry. In a tangle like this maybe there was a cane or two of black raspberry here. Maybe the birds are getting to the berries before I see them.

The strangest thing I saw here on this day was a bunch of what I think are hoverflies swarming all over a white avens (Geum canadense) flower. According to Wikipedia these small flies are also called flower flies and the adults of many species feed on nectar and pollen. They looked to be going for the anthers, which would mean pollen.

This pretty view reminded me of my father, who loved to fish for brook trout. He tried to get me interested but I cared more about exploring the woods than fishing when I was a boy. I don’t think there were too many father and son fishing trips before he realized that he could fish or he could chase after me, but he couldn’t do both. At least, not at the same time. It worked out though; I got to roam the woods nearer home and he got to fish in peace.

Orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) covered a log. It’s a beautiful fungus that is bright enough to be seen from quite a distance. It loves moisture but dries out within a day or two after a rain.

Artist’s conks (Ganoderma applanatum) grew on another log. This bracket fungus gets its name from its smooth white underside, which is perfect for drawing on. Any scratch made on the pure white surface becomes brown and will last for many years. I drew a farm scene on one a long time ago and I still have it. Artist’s conks are perennial fungi that get bigger each year. Older examples can be up to two feet across but these were young and not very big.

Eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata) grew on a rotten birch log that was absolutely saturated with rain water, and that’s just the kind of wet wood environment that they like. This fungus gets its common name from the eyelash like hairs that grow around its rim. They can be hard to see so you have to look closely. Sometimes the “lashes” curl inward toward the center as you can see happening on the example to the right of the largest one, so another common name is Molly eye-winker. As fungi go, they are quite small. None of these examples had reached pea size.

From the road these Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) looked bright red to me but when I got closer, I saw they hadn’t ripened yet. That’s part of being colorblind, but it was okay because these berries are what led me to the log with the eyelash fungi on it. They’re so small I never would have seen them from the road.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) weren’t ripe yet either. Once they turn fully red they’ll disappear very quickly, and that’s why you rarely see ripe ones on this blog. I’ve heard they taste like treacle but I’ve never tried them. Actually I’ve never tasted treacle either, which in this country is called blackstrap molasses.

The place that gets the most sunlight here is the clear space over the road, so of course all the trees and plants lean toward that light. It doesn’t help that they also grow on hillsides as well along much of the roadway. That’s why I see fallen trees almost every time I come here. They often fall on the electric lines that you might have seen in some of these photos.

I finally made it to Beaver Brook Falls but all I can give you is a side view because I didn’t dare climb down the steep, slippery embankment. I say “finally” made it because, though the walk to the falls from the start of the trail is just 7 tenths of mile it usually takes me two hours or more, and that’s because there is so much nature packed into what is really a relatively small space. For someone who likes to study and truly learn from nature, it doesn’t get any better than this amazing place.

One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life, and one that many persons never learn, is to see the divine, the celestial, the pure, in the common, the near at hand – to see that heaven lies about us here in this world. ~John Burroughs

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Last Saturday I realized that I hadn’t climbed Mount Caesar in Swanzey this year so I decided it was time, but not that day; it was near 90 degrees with air so thick you could cut it with a knife. By Sunday morning it had cooled off considerably with very low humidity, but as this photo shows there was plenty of mist.

I was hoping I’d get to see the mist from above but the sun had burned it off by the time I got to the river of reindeer lichen. This is one of my favorite places to stop for a bit on this mountain, though you really haven’t even started the climb at this point.

There are lots of reindeer lichens (Cladonia rangiferina) here. Huge drifts of them line both sides of the trail at its start. These lichens are quite fragile, especially when dry, 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 to reappear. I’ve always thought that the large colonies found here must be hundreds of years old.

The trail starts with granite bedrock.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) reminded me of my grandmother. When I was young she wanted me to be able to see and smell this plant’s flowers, but we never did find any because almost all of it had been picked. Now, 60 years later. It’s everywhere I go. She’d be very happy about that.

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) are one of the earliest to turn in the fall but I’ve never seen one half turn like this one had.

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) was wearing its fall spots. This is one of the earliest plants to whisper fall in any of the forests I visit, and it is often spotted with yellow at this time of year.

My phone camera usually takes better trail photos than my regular camera, but on this morning I wasn’t really happy with the results. To be fair though, it was a bright sunlight, high contrast situation and every camera I’ve owned has had trouble with that.

I found these small mushrooms growing out of a living tree, which is never good for the tree. I haven’t been able to identify them. I see green but my color finding software sees pink, so they must be pink. They were kind of cute, I thought. All the sawdust that had fallen on and around them tells me that this tree is probably full of carpenter ants. Fungi and carpenter ants in and on a living tree is never a good thing for the tree.

I saw lots of purple corts (Cortinarius iodeoides) along the trail but the purple mushroom I hoped to find, the beautiful violet coral fungus, was nowhere to be seen. I’ve seen it here before at just about this time of year.

Another “cort” mushroom is the corrogated cap cort (Cortinarius corrugatus.) It is also called the wrinkled cort for obvious reasons. When fresh it is orangey brown but this one had gone beyond fresh. It’s an inedible but interesting mushroom that people like to find.

I can’t pass by a group of butter wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe ceracea) without getting some photos of them. They’re one of the most photogenic mushrooms in the forest, in my opinion. Very cute and shy little things; I never would have see them hiding behind this log if I hadn’t left the trail to look at something else. As is often the case if you let nature lead, one beautiful thing will lead you to another.

The trail here is very rough in places and is a constant uphill grade with no level places, so I think of it as the most challenging climb of any I do. I once saw a high school track and field member run up and down it before I had reached the halfway point but it usually takes me about an hour and 15 minutes or so. It would anyway even with healthy lungs, because I make a lot of stops to see things of interest. With me “things of interest” means just about everything I see.

Piling stones on top of a tree that has been cut about 7 or 8 feet above the ground doesn’t seem like a good idea to me, but maybe that’s just me. I hope they don’t fall on anyone.

Once I saw these polypody ferns (Polypodium virginianum) near the summit I realized that I had never seen them on this moutain before. They’re called “rock polypody” because they like to grow on top of boulders and there really aren’t any stones big enough to be called boulders along this trail. These seemed to be growing on the ground, which is unusual for this fern. Or maybe there was a buried stone I couldn’t see.

I always look on the polypody’s leaf undersides at this time of year to see the tiny spore cases (sorus) which shine like beacons. Henry David Thoreau liked polypody ferns and said that “Fresh and cheerful communities of the polypody form a lustrous mantle over rocky surfaces in the early spring.” Of course they do exactly that and that’s how they come by another common name: rock cap fern.

The tiny sori are made up of clusters of sporangia and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many ferns. Each will turn a reddish-brown color when ripe and ready to release its spores. The spores are as fine as dust and are borne on the wind. Sorus is from the Greek word sōrós, and means stack, pile, or heap, and each sorus is indeed a round pile of sporangia. As they begin to release spores the sori (plural of sorus) are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of flowers.

NOTE: A helpful reader pointed out that I had my wires crossed and had the meanings of the words sori and sorus backwards. I do know the difference but it’s easy to become confused these days. I hope I got it correct this time and hope my mistake didn’t cause you any confusion.

The end of the trail, the last few yards to the summit, shows more solid granite bedrock and when you reach this point you realize that you’ve been climbing a huge, dome shaped granite monolith with a thin skin of soil on it. It makes you feel small, and feeling small is a good thing now and then.

It was a fine morning for views from the summit but I found that a lot of brush has grown up, so you don’t see a 180-degree panorama any longer.

I was surprised to find little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) up here. It caught the light and glowed beautifully pink in the bright sunshine. This is a common grass that grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington, but is so uncommonly beautiful that it is also grown in gardens. After a frost it takes on a reddish-purple hue, making it even more beautiful.

I was surprised to find St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) growing on the summit. I also saw lots of goldenrod, sumac, honeysuckle, and even forked blue curls. It’s amazing how all those seeds find their way up here. I suppose if you knew which birds ate which seeds you could get a good idea of what birds regularly visit this mountain.

This view shows what I mean about the brush blocking some of the view. I’m sure someone must cut it but I don’t know how often.

Of course I had to visit with the toadskin lichens while I was up here. They surprised me by being quite dry, even though we’d had rain just the morning before. These lichens feel just like potato chips when they’re dry and they crack just as easily so I try not to disturb them. I learned on this climb that they dry out quite quickly and I’d guess that they must be dry for most of their lives.

The black dots you saw on the lichens in that previous shot are this lichen’s apothecia, where its spores are produced. In toadskin lichens they are tiny blackish discs with a sunken center that makes them look like a bowl with a thick black rim. I’ve been imagining that I’m having problems with the camera I use for macros, but the toadskin lichens showed me that there was really nothing to worry about. The head of a pin is .06 inches (1.5 mm) in diameter and one these tiny discs could easily hide behind one.

The view of Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey was as good as any I’ve seen from up here on this day, and I as I sat for a while enjoying it I thought it was a good bonus for all my huffing and puffing. And while I sat there catching my breath and admiring the view, I thought about what an easy thing it is to appreciate the simple things; those everyday things that cost nothing but touch you somehow. I’ve learned from experience that appreciation leads to gratitude, and gratitude leads to joy. I do hope your days are joy filled.

The climb speaks to our character, but the view, I think, to our souls. ~Lori Lansens

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First come the yellow, red and orange mushrooms and then come the purples, and I’m seeing a lot of purple cort mushrooms (Cortinarius iodeoides) this year. I’ve noticed that this mushroom and virtually all of the orange ones are left untouched while white and other colors seem to be eaten almost as soon as they appear. Eaten by what I don’t know, but I assume it’s probably squirrels and chipmunks. Purple cort fungi have a rather bitter slime on their caps and that most likely accounts for their not being eaten.

A purple cort mushroom’s color lightens a bit as it ages, and it will often develop white or yellow streaks and spots as it ages. This is a good way to identify them.

The underside of a purple cort is very beautiful, in my opinion.

This butter waxcap (Hygrocybe ceracea) seemed to glow brightly in the dark of the forest. In this area I will now be seeing fewer and fewer orange and yellow fungi from this point on. Mushrooms have a “bloom time” just like flowers and the appearance of the purples tells me that the time for yellow and orange mushrooms is nearing an end.

Witch’s hat (Hygrocybe-conica) fungi have been everywhere this year. They’re quite small and easy to miss, or maybe I’ve just ignored them in the past. They’re also called conical wax caps.  According to Mushroom expert.com they bruise to black quite easily. They start out bright red to bright orange, fading to orangish or yellowish and finally black. Though this one was dry they can sometimes look wet or slimy.

Yellow nolanea (Entoloma murrayi) is also known as the yellow unicorn mushroom because it sometimes has a knob, called an umbo, on the top of its conical cap. Mushroom books say that they are common in the woods, but they aren’t that common in this immediate area. I think this is the first one I’ve seen.

American slippery jack (Suillus americanus) mushrooms are also called sticky buns or chicken fat fungi. They are known for their yellow, slimy caps with reddish brown scales, and how they usually appear in great numbers under eastern white pine trees. There must have been a dozen or more in this spot when I took this photo; enough so it was hard to get a shot of a single example.

The stem of the American slippery Jack is narrow with reddish spots and large yellow, angular pores are found on the underside of the cap. It’s a very stiff, tough feeling stem. Science has found that this mushroom has anti inflammatory properties.

The lilac fiber cap mushroom (Inocybe geophylla var. lilacina) is the lilac color seen here but it has a white cousin. Even Mushroom Expert.com says this genus is “filled with confoundingly similar species,” and is impossible to be sure of without a microscopic look at its spores, so I could be wrong about its name. It’s a pretty mushroom that people like to find for just that reason. What I noticed beside its pretty color was how the cap did indeed look fibrous. It starts out purple and fades to brown.

Here is the underside of the lilac fiber cap. The gills start off white and slowly turn brown, but you can also see a hint of purple in these examples. This is a poisonous mushroom.

According to Wikipedia scaly rustgill fungi (Gymnopilus sapineus) grow in dense clusters on conifer logs. The yellowish caps are darker at the center with a dry, sometimes scaly surface which can be fibrillose.  According to Mushroom Expert.com some guide books will say that the cap is scaly and others will say that it is smooth. I wanted to test Google lens on it to see how it did with mushrooms. It was close but it had the species wrong and the description it gave didn’t match what I’ve read elsewhere. DNA testing has shown that it is very similar to Gymnopilus penetrans, which is called the common rustgill. This common mushroom is often a bright spot in dark forests.

Clavaria ornatipes is described as a spatula or club shaped fungus, colored greyish to pinkish gray. These fungi shrivel when they dry out and revive after a rain. They grow directly out of the ground and there are often hundreds of them. I haven’t seen many coral type fungi this year so I was happy to see these.

In my last mushroom post I showed a Berkley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi) that I had been watching grow for weeks. Now, more than a month later here it is, fully grown. I put a pocket knife up in the left corner so you could see how big it was. You can also see standing water in its center. Now this giant will begin to slowly decompose, and the odor will be easily detected from several yards away.

The scaly vase chanterelle (Turbinellus floccosus) is also called the wooly chanterelle. Sometimes it can have an orange cap like that seen in the above photo and sometimes it can be vase shaped. It likes to grow near conifers, and that’s where I found this one and several others. Though they might have chanterelle in their common name they can make you sick. They are said to be more closely related to stinkhorns than chanterelles.

Here’s a look at the outside of a younger scaly chanterelle, completely vase shaped. It is described as “shriveled looking but stout” and this one felt solid and heavy, like a club. The outside is creamy when young and then turns brownish.

There are many boletes that stain blue and they are easily misidentified, so I’ll just say that this is a bolete that stains blue. Many blue staining boletes are also poisonous.

Though there are gilled boletes most have pores or tubes on the undersurface as this one did. Sometimes the underside of the cap is a different color but the color of this one was fairly uniform all over.

Uniformly colored that is until it was cut, and then the flesh turned blue. I’ve seen boletes stain a beautiful, indigo blue instantly when damaged but this was a lighter blue that took a minute or two to show. If you happen to know its name, I’d love to hear from you.

Seeing big mushrooms is easy, but to see small ones you need to re-train your eyes. (And your mind, somewhat.) Jelly babies (Leotia lubrica) taught me that one day when I accidentally saw them; they helped me see that forests are full of things just as small and sometimes many times smaller. Once you train your eyes to see small things before long, you’ll be able to see them everywhere and a whole new chapter in the book of nature will open for you. Despite their name jelly babies are sac fungi rather than jelly fungi.

I thought I’d never see a mushroom smaller than jelly babies but I was wrong. These fuzzy foot mushrooms (Xeromphalina campanella) were the smallest I’ve seen. Many of the mushrooms seen in this photo were barely as big as a pea and some were even smaller. The Xeromphalina part of the common name means “little dry navel” and points to the dimple that forms in the cap as it grows and expands. This mushroom grows on wood and this particular species prefers conifers. There is another that prefers hardwoods called Xeromphalina kauffmanii. Both are known for their ability to fruit in large numbers. I think there was an eastern hemlock stump under all that moss.

Everything in nature gets eaten, but something that is rare to see is a mushroom with another fungus feeding on it, like this one with a mycoparasite called Syzygites megalocarpus growing on its cap. A mycoparasite is essentially a fungus (pin mold) that feeds on other fungi. This one has been found on over 65 species of mushroom and it was the first fungus found to be capable of sexual reproduction. It can appear overnight if heat and humidity levels are just right. You can’t plan to see something like this. You have to be there when it happens, and that’s a good reason to spend as much time as possible in nature.

On older vermillion waxcaps (Hygrocybe miniata) the penny size cap can become a bit scaly and fade to orange a bit, as this one had. The margin also becomes scalloped with age as this one showed but even with all of that Mushroom Expert.com says that this pretty little mushroom can be confused with several others. In fact the web site says that miniata should mean “many look-alikes.” Actually it means red or vermillion.

The gills on a vermillion waxcap are pale yellow but fade a bit with age. The underside of this mushroom is very pretty, in my opinion. It looks like a very tiny spider might have been living among the gills.

I put this photo of a yellow fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria var. formosa) here in this post to remind me to tell you that we’ve never seen as many of this mushroom as we’ve seen this year. They’re just about everywhere you look and some of the caps have flattened out and grown as large as dinner plates. This tells me that they like lots of rain and they do better when they get it. The white spots (called warts) are what are left of the universal veil that covered the mushroom when it was in the immature “egg” stage.

Another mushroom that is having a great year is the tiger’s eye mushroom (Coltricia perennis.) Something that makes it unusual is how it is 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 find them in August through October. This year they have a lot of red in them.

I hope you enjoyed this second look at the summer fungi that have been popping up in this area. You don’t need to be a mycologist to enjoy their many interesting shapes and beautiful colors, so I hope you’ll look out for them.

Go out, go out I beg of you  
And taste the beauty of the wild.   
Behold the miracle of the earth 
With all the wonder of a child. 

~Edna Jaques

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Finally, after I believe two years since my last full mushroom post, I’m able to do another. I thought I’d start with these pretty little butter wax caps (Hygrocybe ceracea.) I’m not a mycologist and I don’t even like eating mushrooms but I sure do like looking at them because they can be very beautiful.

I think theses small white mushrooms might have been flat oysterlings (Crepidotus applanatus.) They are a pure white wood rotting mushroom that feel like your earlobe and I’ve read that they’re sometimes called simply flat creps. They should not be confused with oyster mushrooms because they are inedible.

Here is the what the underside of the previous mushrooms looks like. I’ve heard that the gills brown with age so these examples must have been quite fresh.

I was able to see something I’ve never seen before; the “birth” of a Berkley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi,) the largest mushroom I’ve ever seen. What you see here are at least three mushrooms erupting from that lumpy, whitish mass.

There were two groups here near a tree and this is one of the groups when it was young and just taking on that familiar shape. 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.

These photos were taken over a period of about three weeks, so this is a slow growing mushroom. As I said, they can be huge, and this one was probably at least two feet across. I don’t know if it had finished growing but as this photo shows something had been eating it. I’d guess a squirrel. They get to a lot of mushrooms before I do.

From the gigantic to the almost microscopic. These eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata) grow on the wet, seeping wound of a standing tree. Each of the bigger ones is less than the diameter of a pea. They are considered cup fungi and they get their name from the hairs around the perimeter. The hairs can move and sometimes curl in towards the center of the disc shaped body. I’ve read that some believe that the hairs might collect moisture, similar to the way spines on cacti work, but I’ve always found them growing in very wet places so I’m not sure about that. The shine you see in the photo is caused by the camera’s LED light. It’s quite dark where these grow.

Fan shaped jelly fungi (Dacryopinax spathularia) are spatulate fungi, meaning they’re shaped like a spatula. These grew out of the crack in a log and were quite pretty, I thought. Sometime you’ll see spatulate fungi that are more fan shaped or club shaped but these examples seemed to live up to the name fairly well. In China it is sometimes included in a vegetarian dish called Buddha’s delight.

According to Mushroom Expert.com Staghorn fungi (Calocera cornea) grow after heavy rains on the barkless, dead wood of oaks and other hardwoods. This log had its bark still on but these small fungi came out from under it.

The website goes on to say that this jelly fungus appears as clusters of slick, cylindric fruiting bodies with rounded-off or somewhat sharpened tips. In fact it looks more like a tiny club fungus than a jelly fungus. These examples covered a good part of this log. They’re fun to look at but getting a useable photo can often be a little less than fun. These fungi are quite small.

You can tell that it has been rainy, hot and humid when slime molds start to appear. Despite the name slime molds aren’t molds and they aren’t always slimy. Unfortunately, though everybody argues about what they aren’t, nobody seems to know exactly what they are. The easiest way for me to think of them is as a single celled organism like an amoeba, with thousands of nuclei. Many headed slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) likes decaying organic matter like leaves and logs because this is where it finds its food supply of bacteria, yeasts, mushroom spores and microbes. The slime mold in the photo is in a vegetative phase called plasmodium, which is when it can move by ”streaming ” at about 1 millimeter per hour. The plasmodium is made up of networks of protoplasmic veins and many nuclei which move to seek out food. Once it finds something it likes it surrounds it and secretes enzymes to digest it.

Here is a closer look at a “streaming” many headed slime mold on an oak leaf. It was moving, but so slowly the eye can’t detect it.

This example of a many headed slime mold looked like it was climbing this stone. There must have been something on the stone very appealing to it to have it do this. I think this was only the second time I’ve seen a slime mold on stone.

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

I was pleased with this photo because it shows something I’ve wondered about for years. I once saw a log with hundreds of clear, antler shaped beings on it and I’ve wondered what they were ever since. Now I know that they were young finger slime molds, because you can see two of them just right of center in this shot. They’re so small I couldn’t see them when I was taking this photo.

The honeycomb coral slime mold (Ceratiomyxa  fruticulosa  var. porioides) in the above photo that I took previously is a close relative of the finger slime mold we just saw. When conditions are right and food is running low this organism will produce the white honeycomb shapes seen in the photo. They do this prior to fruiting, which is when they create the spores needed to reproduce. Without magnification this slime mold looks like a white smudge on a log and is far too small for me to see in any great detail. I’m always surprised when I finally see what is in the photos.

Each one of the yellow dots you see in this photo is part of a slime mold called Physarum viride. As far as I can tell it has no common name. This slime mold likes decaying logs and can be found in conifer or hardwood forests. Each bright yellow “Lens-shaped structure” is on a stalk, and as they age they will blacken and harden, and start to crack open before releasing their spores to the wind. Each of these tiny “dots” would measure less than the diameter of a common pin.

The white cousin of the slime mold we just saw is called Physarum alba. These structures are also stalked and except for their color behave in the same way as their cousins. You have to look closely but you can see how some of these have cracked open to show their black spores inside.

As I’ve said here before Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are not fungi but because they like the same conditions they often show up when the fungi do, and so they often end up in these mushroom posts. I’ve included this one because I don’t think most people ever see them doing what this one is doing. When an Indian pipe is ready to become pollinated and begin producing its dust like seeds it turns is flower straight up to the sky and slowly browns and hardens, finally looking a lot like it’s made of wood before splitting open to release its seeds. They usually crack open in very late fall or winter.

And here is a view looking down into an Indian pipe flower; a view I’m guessing many have never seen. It is thought that the flower turns up like this so its ten yellow pollen bearing stamens surrounding a large central style will be more visible to pollinators. It is fitting that the plant appears in a post on fungi because it has recently been discovered, according to the University of Texas, that Indian pipes are associated with a fungus which obtains nutrients directly from the roots of green plants. That makes Indian pipe a parasite, with the fungus acting as a “bridge” between it and its host.

Chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius) are often deformed when we’ve had a lot of rain and over 12 inches of rain in a little more than two weeks is a lot, but this chanterelle looked fine. Chanterelle mushrooms are considered a delicacy but I’ve had mushroom experts tell me that you can never be 100% sure of a mushroom’s identity without examining its spores under a microscope. Since I don’t own 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 them. 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 you might find out if you have anything like them in your area. They’re a good place to start.

From the side chanterelles look like trumpets, but so do many other mushrooms including the false chanterelle, which is inedible. False chanterelles have orange flesh, while true chanterelles have white flesh. This example had white flesh but I still wouldn’t eat it without showing it to an expert first.

Common stinkhorns (Phallus impudicus) have an odor like rotting meat when they pass on, and that’s where their common name comes from. Though this example was dry, the green conical cap is sometimes slimy and shiny. It uses its carrion like odor to attract insects, which are said to disperse its sticky spores. Its stalk is hollow and spongy. I find these mushrooms almost always growing on some type of wood, often wood chips or very rotten logs. Though this one looks like it was coming up in a lawn I’d bet my lawnmower that there was wood in some form under the grass.

Jackson’s amanita (Amanita jacksonii) is also called American Caesar’s mushroom. It has a bright orange or orange-red cap with a lined perimeter, yellow gills, and a white, sack like volva. The volva is what remains of the outer skin, called a universal veil, that enclosed the mushroom in its young “egg” stage. As the mushroom grows the universal veil tears open to finally reveal what we see here. I had to brush a few pine needles away so we could see it clearly.

The Jackson’s amanita in the previous photo turned into this in a single night. It must have been 3 inches across, and it was a very colorful, beautiful thing.

I hope you enjoyed seeing these beautiful wonders of nature and I also hope you will be able to find plenty of mushrooms in your area this summer. You don’t have to eat them or even know their names; just admire their beauty. They’re popping up everywhere here.

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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An eastern cottontail hiding in the tall grass saw me as soon as I saw it and we both froze. I was able to turn my camera on and slowly raise it up to eye level, and finally get a couple of not so hot shots.

The rabbit was fine with me being there for a while because it munched on grass, but then it turned and hopped off, and I saw its fluffy cotton tail.

What I believe is a band winged meadowhawk dragonfly landed on an old garage door at work early one morning. The light was low and the photos weren’t that good so I was going to discard them, but then I saw something odd going on. This dragonfly had what appeared to be tiny eggs all over it.

Here is a closer look at the “eggs” on the dragonfly. I’ve searched for dragonfly diseases and dragonfly parasites but have had no luck finding anything out. If you happen to know what this is about I’d really love to hear from you. I know dragonflies lay eggs but I’ve never heard of them laying them on each other.

Note: A helpful reader has identified these as immature water mites. What is happening in these photos is called “Phoresy,” which a symbiotic relationship where one organism transports another organism of a different species. The red mites are parasites in the tick family and they do suck the dragonfly’s bodily fluids. When the dragonfly lands or hovers near water they will fall / jump off. Thanks go to Ginger Wells Kay, to the folks at BugGuide.net and to Kathy Keatley Garvey and the bug squad from the University of California for this information.  

This dragonfly looked fine but I haven’t been able to identify it. One of the club tails, maybe?

A grasshopper seemed very interested in what I was doing. In fact as I was taking its photo it turned to get a better look. Or maybe to give me a better look.

I expect to see leaves in colors other than green in the spring or fall but not in summer, so these ash leaves seemed confused to me. It is thought that plants might do this to prevent the leaves getting too much sunlight, but it doesn’t seem like anyone really knows for sure.

I can’t explain why some plants do this but it can often be beautiful, as this Joe Pye weed shows.

For years now I’ve meant to check our native alder bushes in the spring for new tongue gall growth and each year I’ve forgotten. But then I was taking photos of a Deptford pink that grew under an alder and I stood up and there they were. And they really do look like tongues, especially at this stage. Some were even bright red.

I went back on a rainy day and got this shot of another tongue like gall. Instead of being caused by an insect like many galls, alder (Alnus incana) tongue gall is caused by a fungus (Taphrina alni.) The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the female cone-like catkins (strobiles) and causes long, tongue shaped galls known as languets to grow from them. These galls seem to like high humidity so are usually found on alders that grow near swamps, ponds and streams. 

Once they’ve reached their limit of growth the tongue galls dry and blacken, and look like this. I think this is something most of us have seen.

Azalea Exobasidium gall is another leaf and flower gall that is caused by a fungus instead of an insect. It can cause swollen shoots, stem galls, witches’ brooms and red leaf spots, but more often than not it causes white galls like that seen in the above photo. The white color comes from the spores of the fungus, which are spread by wind and rain. I found this and many other examples growing on some wild roseshell azaleas.

While I’ve been working on this post we’ve had two days of rain, so I hoped to see some mushrooms. I didn’t have to look too hard; this yellow fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) grew in the middle of a trail. I used to do 2 or 3 mushroom posts each year but last year I didn’t find enough to do any, so I was happy to see this one. 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. Some Vikings, called “berserkers”  are said to have used it for that very reason.

I also saw a white slime mold on an oak leaf. Some slime molds can be very small and others quite large. This one in its plasmodium stage was average, I’d say; about as big as the leaf itself. When slime molds are in this state they are usually moving, but very slowly. Slime molds are very sensitive to drying out so they usually move at night, but they can be found on cloudy, humid days as well. I haven’t been able to identify it so for now all I can say is that it is a white slime mold, possibly a Physarum, in the plasmodium stage. Slime molds, even though sometimes covering a large area, are actually made up of hundreds or thousands of single entities. These entities move through the forest looking for food or a suitable place to fruit and eventually come together in a mass. They move with the single mindedness of a school of fish or a flock of birds. So far science can tell us what they aren’t, but not what they are.

And there were Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora,) which are not fungi but often appear at the same time. Each plant has a single flower and each flower nods toward the ground until it is pollinated. Once pollinated they turn and point straight at the sky, and in that position they will turn brown and become hard like wood, and finally the seed pods will split open and release the tiny seeds. They are dust like and are borne on the wind.

Blueberries seem to be having a great year. The bushes I’ve looked at have been loaded with berries, so the bears and birds will eat well.

Invasive Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) berries ripen from green to orange to red and for the first time I caught all the stages in one photo. This shrub is native to Siberia and is very tough. Birds love its berries and that’s why it has been so successful. In this area there are very few places where it doesn’t grow. Tatarian honeysuckle was introduced as an ornamental shrub in the 1750s. It has deep pink, very fragrant flowers in spring. Though it is invasive it has been here so long that it’s hard to imagine life without it.

Black elderberry fruit has just started to form. In this stage the big flower heads always remind me of star charts.

Fern balls are created by an insect called either a fern leaf tier or a leaf roller, depending on who you listen to. They appear at the tip of a fern frond and look like a ball. Inside the ball are caterpillars of a moth, possibly in the herpetogramma family. The caterpillars pull the tip of the fern into a ball shape and tie it up with silk. Once inside the shelter they feed on the leaflets.

These are busy moths; I’m seeing a lot of these balled up leaves this year.

The fern that had the fern balls on it was either an interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana,) shown above, or a cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum,) shown in the next photo. Since it had no spore cases on it, it was hard to tell. Interrupted fern gets its common name from the way the fertile fronds look as if they’ve been “interrupted” by spore cases, which are the dark areas on this fern.

Cinnamon fern spore bearing fronds are reddish and whoever named the fern thought they looked like cinnamon sticks. If you saw both ferns growing side by side and neither was producing spores most of us would think they were identical.

Timothy grass has just started to flower. Each flower head is filled with tiny florets, each with three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. Timothy grass makes an excellent hay crop and gets its common name from Timothy Hanson, a farmer who began to cultivate and promote it in 1720, a few years after its introduction into colonial America in 1711. It should be cut for hay before it reaches this stage but it’s quite beautiful when it blossoms. When you see someone chewing a stalk of grass in a photo or painting it is usually Timothy. I chewed many myself as a boy, and I just thought of the opening line of Ventura Highway by the band America: Chewing on a piece of grass, walking down the road

The oddest thing I’ve seen lately is this piece of cantaloupe i found on a lawn. I once worked with someone who made pens as a hobby, and he told me that he knew some people who used the netting from cantaloupes to decorate the pens they made. I can’t imagine how it was done but I’d bet they were beautiful pens.

This view says summer to me. I grew up lazing on the banks of a river, seeing views just like this one every day. May every child be so lucky.

Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.
~Lao Tzu

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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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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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Two or three years ago I saw my first pale beauty moth and now I’m seeing them everywhere. Their wings and body are pale greenish to grayish white and the female, which I think this example is, is said to be much larger than the male. The caterpillars are said to feed on the leaves of 65 species of trees and shrubs including alder, ash, basswood, beech, birch, blueberry, cherry, fir, elm, hemlock, maple, oak, pine, poplar, rose, spruce, larch, and willow. They’re supposed to be nocturnal but I see them in daylight. Usually in the evening though, so maybe they come out early.

There are a lot of dragonflies about this year and for some reason many of them are on lawns. I’ve walked over lawns and had hundreds of them flying around me. I can’t think of another time I’ve seen this but it must be that they’re finding plenty of food on the lawns. Or something. This example of what I think is a female widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) was near a pond on a cattail leaf, but there are lawns nearby. There were light whitish spots outside the dark spots on the wings but I think the lighting hid them.

 

A black ant was so interested in something it found on a sarsaparilla leaf (Aralia nudicaulis) it let me get the camera very close. I couldn’t see what attracted its attention and can’t tell from the photo either, but it was rapt. I think it was a common black house ant. It didn’t seem big enough to be a carpenter ant.

While I was visiting with the ant a winter dark firefly (Ellychnia corrusca) flew down and joined us on the same sarsaparilla leaf. According to Bugguide.net, these fireflies can be a pest in sap buckets in the spring because they like maple sap, and they will also drink from wounds in maple trees. They like to sun themselves on the sunny side of trees or buildings, but this one seemed happy just being on a leaf. Most fireflies live as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter near water and stay in the area they were born in, even as adults. They like it warm and humid, so they must be happy right now. They don’t seem to be afraid of people at all; I’ve gotten quite close to them several times.

On a very windy day what I believe was a male calico pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) clung to the siding of a building. The light wasn’t right for dragonfly photography but I tried anyway and though it isn’t a great shot you can see most of the wing markings. These dragonflies are used to being blown about on the tips of twigs like a pennant, and that’s where their common name comes from. A fact that I find interesting about this dragonfly is how the males are not territorial and often perch facing away from water, apparently waiting for females as they approach the water. I’m not sure why this one chose a building.

NOTE: Blogging friend Mike Powell has pointed out that this is a female calico pennant dragonfly. If you’re interested in dragonflies or any other natural wonder, you should be reading Mike’s blog. You can find a link right over in the “Favorite Links” section of this blog. Thanks Mike!

I’m lucky enough to work near a pond and as I drive to work, early in the morning on a certain day in June, the snapping turtles begin to lay their eggs. As if someone flipped a switch the sandy shoreline between the pond and the road will be lined with the big turtles, sticking half out of the sand. And they are big; snapping turtles can weigh between 10-35 pounds. Though some snappers have been found as far as a mile from water most will dig their nest closer to it. They’ve been known to nest in lawns, gardens, and even muskrat burrows. Snapping turtles reach maturity at 8 to 10 years and can live up to 40 years or more.

It is said that some turtles weep from the strain of egg laying but this one had dry eyes. In fact she looked like she was smiling. You can see her beak in this photo; it has a rough cutting edge that is used for tearing food. They have powerful jaws and the snapping beak is easily able to snap off a finger or toe, so it isn’t wise to get too close to one. They have a neck that stretches quite a distance and they can lunge at high speed, which is how they catch their food. Snapping turtles eat plants, insects, spiders, worms, fish, frogs, smaller turtles, snakes, birds, crayfish, small mammals, and carrion. Plants make up about a third of their diet.

Snapping turtles lay one clutch of eggs in May or June and unfortunately this photo shows how most of them end up. Out of a nest of 15 to 50 eggs most will be eaten by raccoons, skunks, or crows. Though I’ve looked in the sand near disturbed nests I’ve never seen a paw print, so I can’t say what animal is doing this. It doesn’t take much to harm the turtles; the eggs are very delicate and the turtle embryo can be killed if turned or jarred. As many as 90% of the nests are destroyed each year and as I think about it I wonder if that isn’t part of nature’s plan. If every egg in every nest on this small pond were to hatch it would be overrun by snapping turtles and they would quickly run out of food. It might be better for them to never be born than to slowly die of starvation, but I’m very thankful that it isn’t up to me to make that decision.

Nature has a way of ensuring the continuation of each species and I know that many snapping turtles survive because I see them in ponds and streams everywhere. Egg hatching takes about three months but it varies depending on temperature and weather conditions. If the nest isn’t disturbed the hatchlings dig their way out in August through October and head right for the water. In winter they hibernate in the mud at the pond bottom. I should say that there are laws against disturbing turtle nests in New Hampshire, so they are best left alone.

I’m guessing that this bullfrog was very happy that there were no snapping turtles nearby. Adult female bullfrogs have an eardrum (tympanic membrane) that is about the same size as the eye and on a male it is much larger than the eye, so I’d say this one was a female. Females don’t croak but there was a lot of croaking going on here on this day.

With such a rainy spring I’m surprised that mushrooms aren’t popping up out of the sidewalks, but I’m not seeing that many. I did find some little horsehair mushrooms (Marasmius rotula) growing on a log recently. These are very small things; the biggest one in this photo might be as big as a pea.

Horsehair mushrooms are also called pinwheel mushrooms. Their pleated and scalloped caps always make me think of tiny Lilliputian parachutes. The shiny, hollow black stem lightens as it reaches the cap and is very coarse like horse hair, and that’s where the common name comes from. They grow in small colonies on rotting logs, stumps, and branches. Their spore release depends on plenty of moisture so look for this one after it rains. In dry weather they dehydrate into what looks like a whitish dot at the end of a black stem, but when it rains they rehydrate to release more spores. They can do this for up to three weeks.

The underside of the horsehair mushroom’s cap also looks like a parachute, with gills spaced quite far apart for such a little thing. In the center the gills join to make a collar that encircles the stem.

Swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans) are interesting fungi that grow in water and I find them in seeps where water runs year round. They are classified as “amphibious fungi” and use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low-oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue they aren’t found on twigs or bark and this photo shows how they are growing out of saturated leaves. I’m sorry about the strange angularity of this photo but I was kneeling in mud when I took it, trying not to drop the camera into it.

Another common name for swamp beacons is “matchstick fungus” and that’s exactly what they remind me of because they are just about the size of a wooden match. This one had an elongated head on it though and didn’t look very match like. If you want to get shots of this fungus be prepared to get your knees wet. Mine were soaked.

Hot humid weather along with a rainy day or two always makes me want to start looking for slime molds and sure enough after a recent shower, I found some. Slime molds seem to grow on just about anything; there is even a photo online of one engulfing a beer can that was left out on a rock. They almost always grow on the side away from the sun because they don’t want to dry out. A slime mold is an amoeba and that says a lot about how very small they are, but luckily they group together and that makes them easier to see. When I look for them I look for a smudge of color on the shaded sides of logs or on last season’s leaves. The one seen here is in its plasmodial stage and is on the move. I think it might be one called the tapioca slime mold (Brefeldia maxima.)

Slime molds can appear in their single celled amoeba form but when I see them they are almost always massed or massing together as these were. This plasmodial slime mold, like many others, moves using “cytoplasmic streaming,” which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass. They can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Eventually they will shift from the growth to the fruiting stage, when they will release their spores. Slime molds do not like dryness, so most of this usually occurs at night or on damp, humid days after a rain.

Here’s another look at what a slime molds can look like from a distance. This could also be yellow, orange or red. When looking for slime molds it’s important to remember that hot sunlight dries them out, so they’ll be on the shaded sides and undersides of logs, on stumps, mossy rocks, and in the leaves on the forest floor in the darkest part of the forest where the soil stays moist.

Here’s a closer look at the slime mold in the previous photo. Identifying slime molds can be tricky, but most good mushroom books will include a section on them and there are a few good online resources as well. If you want to photograph slime molds you’d better have a good macro lens because many are almost microscopic in size. What you see in this photo wouldn’t even cover a penny. A good LED light is also helpful. I think this example might be coral or white fingered slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.)

I think all slime molds are beautiful but this one really takes the cake. At least I think it’s a slime mold. I’ve found various examples of it for about three years now and I’ve spent that long trying to identify it with no luck. I haven’t found anything even similar to it online or in a book. I think part of the problem is it starts out looking like the white, blurry, bumpy mass in the lower left corner and then opens into the tiny blue starbursts seen above. What that means is it’s hard to know whether to search for a white or blue slime mold. I’ve tried both many times with no luck, so if you know its name I’d love to hear from you.

As I was walking through the woods one day something told me to look up and when I did I saw a young porcupine sitting on the crook of a branch. It let me get close enough for a couple of quick photos but I didn’t want to disturb it, so I left and let it be. Porcupines are herbivores and eat leaves, twigs, and green plants such as clover. They often climb trees to find leaves for food, and in winter they will eat the bark of some trees. They are shy, gentle creatures but unfortunately I see many of their kind run over on the roadsides. They roam at night a lot and can be very hard to see. This one was quite small; probably smaller than a soccer ball. Many Native American tribes used porcupine quills for decoration on their clothing but women in the Lakota tribe found a way to get the quills without harming the porcupine; they would throw a blanket over it and then pick out the quills that were stuck in the blanket.

I went to the Ashuelot River one recent evening and found it raging because of strong thunder showers we’d had the day before, but a duck had found a calm spot away from the chaos of curling whitecaps. The river was high too; that small island isn’t usually an island.

But the duck didn’t seem to care one way or the other. It splashed and preened and tipped up to eat and smiled serenely while the river raged on around it. There has to be a lesson for us all in there somewhere. After all, nature is full of them.

He who has experienced the mystery of nature is full of life, full of love, full of joy. Radiance emanates from the whole existence itself; it does not know the meaning of holding back. ~ Maitreya Rudrabhayananda

Thanks for stopping in. Have a safe and happy 4th of July!

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