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Posts Tagged ‘Yellow Witches Butter’

I decided to prune a very old, overgrown Forsythia at work last week. This is what I found on the oldest branches; Lilliputian gardens. I think I recognize star rosette (Physcia stellaris) and hammered shield lichens (Parmelia sulcata,) but others are a mystery. 

Another branch had what I think is yellow witches butter (Tremella mesenterica.) It doesn’t have quite the same appearance as other witches butter fungi I’ve seen but that could be because it was very young.

I’ve learned, with help from knowledgeable readers, that what I have thought was a beard lichen in the Usnea family is actually a bushy, beard like lichen in the Evernia family, called Evernia mesomorpha. The differences, if I understand what I’ve read correctly, are in the flattened, antler like branches. Its common name is boreal oakmoss and it falls out of trees here on a regular basis, but this one was growing on that same Forsythia.

Anyone who knows the Forsythia well knows that, like a raspberry, when a branch tip is allowed to touch the soil it will root and create another plant. Part of what I wanted to do when cleaning up this bush was removing all the baby plants that surrounded the main shrub, and when I started digging I found golden thread like roots like that seen in the photo. They reminded me of the roots of the goldthread plant (Coptis trifolia) but there were none of those growing here. Were they from the Forsythia? I can’t really say but it wouldn’t surprise me with so many other parts of the plant yellow.

One of the reasons you don’t let a Forsythia’s branch tips take root is they form a kind of cage  around the plant so you can’t get a leaf blower or rake in there to get the leaves out. So, once I had all the plants but the main one removed I started in on the leaves underneath it and found this. I thought at first it was a fungal mycelium mat but after a closer look I’m not so sure.

This looks more like a slime mold to me but I don’t see many of them in the early spring. I’m still not sure what it was, but it was fun to see.

One of the strangest things I saw on this Forsythia was a large witches broom, which I removed. Then I saw hundreds of these; smaller witches brooms just getting started. Each one of those little bumps is going to turn into a shoot that will be about 8 inches long, if the one I cut off is any indication. Botanically speaking a witches broom is an “abnormal proliferation of shoots on one area of a stem.” Many shrubs and trees exhibit this abnormal growth and sometimes it is desirable; Montgomery dwarf blue spruce for instance is one of the best dwarf blue spruces, and is from a witches broom. In some cases it isn’t at all desirable; witches broom on rice can be fatal to humans. There are many causes, depending on the plant. Witches brooms are usually caused by either a rust fungus or a parasitic plant such as mistletoe, but there is an aphid known to cause honeysuckle witches’ broom, and on hackberry trees (Celtis occidentalis) it is caused by both a powdery mildew fungus and a tiny mite. On cherry and blackberry it is caused by bacteria carried by insects from elm or ash trees. In the case of Forsythia I can’t find the cause, but how amazing is it that all of these interesting things were found on a single shrub?

I saw this happening to a fallen beech leaf. I would guess that it’s how decomposition happens to a leaf.

I was splitting wood again and found this little critter under the bark of an oak log. I looked it up and found this: “The flat worms that appear under oak tree bark are larvae of pests called flatheaded borers, so named due to the flattened segment behind their heads and flattened bodies. Flatheaded apple tree borers (Chrysobothris femorata) feed on a variety of plants including oaks. The larvae display cream-hued bodies and dark heads with a total length of approximately 1 inch, and adults are black to green beetles. Typically appearing on freshly planted trees during summer, apple tree borers tunnel into bark, resulting in girdled branches, dieback and sometimes tree death. Releasing natural enemies that are available at garden supply retailers, such as parasitic wasps, provides biological control.” This creature’s darker head is on its right end, I believe.

We had to take a window out of a building where I work and when we did this chrysalis fell out of it. After a bit of searching I found that it was a moth chrysalis, but even Bugguide.net can’t seem to pin it down any closer than that. Apparently it could be any one of several different moths. When you hold it in your hand the pointed end jiggles, so it was obviously alive. We put it outside and wished it well. It’s interesting to me that you can see where the head is, where the wings are, and what is obviously the tail.

We had a little snow on the 24th and though it messed up spring cleanup plans at work for a day or two it melted quickly and was gone by the end of the week. Spring snows are common but nobody gets too upset about them because we know it’s simply too warm for them to last. The thawed ground melts them quickly. Much of March has been cool and damp.

The road I travel to work on was a winter wonderland and it reminded me of the words of William Sharp, who said “There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.”

At my house we had just under 5 inches. Though it looks fluffy in the photo is was actually heavy and wet, as spring snows often are.

In the 1800s René Lalique was a French glass designer known for his art deco designs. One of his best known creations was the grayish frosted, matte finish crystal he used for perfume bottles and other items. I thought of that glass when I held this piece of puddle ice up to the sun, and I wondered if one day Mr. Lalique held up his own piece of puddle ice. Maybe that’s where he got his inspiration for such a beautiful glass. If we keep our minds open inspiration can come to us from any bit of nature we happen to see.

If there is one thing I see lots of it is fallen trees, but the beautiful grain pattern in this old dead pine caught me and held me one morning. I took lots of photos of it but this closeup was my favorite. I couldn’t see all the beauty in this world if I lived 10 lifetimes.

Before the new leaves appear and when the spring rains fall to plump them up, orange crust fungi are at their most beautiful. To me they are like a beacon in the woods. Their startlingly bright orange color among the leftover browns and grays of winter call to me from quite a distance.

I stopped one day to see if the spring beauties that you saw in the last post were blooming and a large shadow passed over me when I got out of the car. And then another, and when I looked up there were two turkey vultures flying low, swooping in circles around me. What could they be after? I wondered until I saw a dead raccoon and then I knew that I had interrupted their meal. But darn it I had flowers to see and I thought they could wait for a few minutes while I did. Apparently they thought so too because they sat in the top of a nearby tree to wait. The raccoon certainly wasn’t going anywhere.

Every night when I get home from work this joyful scene is what greets me; thousands of beautiful little moss spore capsules glowing in the afternoon sun. One day last week I decided I wanted to know more about these little friends, so even though mosses can be a challenge to identify I started trying to find out their name.

Here is one of the spore capsules and its stalk. If I have identified it correctly by April the capsules will turn a light brown and their pointed tip (operculum) will fall off so their spores can be released to the wind through a fringe of teeth (peristome) at the end of the capsule. I’ve watched them over time and they started out straight up and thin, like a toothpick.

I think that this moss might be one called baby tooth moss (Plagiomnium cuspidatum,) though I’m still far from sure. One reason I’m having such a hard time is its size. What you see here is so small I can’t even think of anything to compare it to. I probably took 30 photos to get just this one of its leaves and you can still barely see the tiny teeth that should line the upper half of each leaf.

I teased a tiny piece of this moss out of the pack and brought it inside, thinking that I could get a better shot of it but I found that it started drying out instantly, and the leaves started curling into their dry state, so I can’t see any of the tiny teeth I hoped to see. What this photo does show is how the stalk that supports the spore capsule comes right up out of the center of the leaves. I’ve read that it should have a tiny foot where it meets the leaves but I can’t see it here. If you know what this tiny little moss is I’d love to hear from you.

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive. ~Eleanora Duse

Thanks for stopping in. Take care everyone, and be safe.

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One of the strangest things I’ve found in nature is when a normally roaring brook is muffled by ice, so last weekend I went up to Beaver Brook to see if it had been muffled or if it was still singing. As this photo shows, it was singing. Loudly.

There were places though, where the ice had almost grown from bank to bank. The ice doesn’t quiet it absolutely but very close, and it’s an eerie thing to know a brook is there and not be able to hear it.

Icicles hung from the edges of ice shelves but they weren’t as impressive as in years past. This has been such a warm winter. It gets cool and snows but then it warms up and the snow melts, and then it happens again, so we have no real snow depth. The reason it has lasted here is because Beaver Brook flows through a shaded canyon between two hills.

I saw more ice on the ledges that line the old road than on the brook.

An evergreen fern waited patiently for spring.

What I call the color changing lichen had put on its lavender / blue coat. My color finding software sees more “steel blue” than any other color but in the warm months this lichen is ash gray. When I see it I always wonder how many other lichens change color. This one is granular and crustose and I’ve never been able to identify it.

I didn’t want to get too close to where the color changing lichen grew because the ledges here are unstable and large pieces have been falling recently. Cracks like this one are caused by water running into them and freezing. The expanding ice makes the crack bigger and bigger and eventually the stone falls, pried away from the ledge face by the ice.

On the hillsides above me there were many fallen trees. Since there are electric lines running through here they have to be cut when they fall on the wires.

I was sorry to see that one of the fallen trees was an old beech with hundreds of beechnut husks on it. These nuts are an important food source for many different animals but I hardly see them at all.

A maple leaf had such beautiful color it stopped me in my tracks and held me mesmerized for a time. I took far too many photos of it but colorful maple leaves are unexpected in February.

I think it has been over a year since I last saw the yellow jelly fungus (Tremella mesenterica) called witches butter, even though they’re fairly common. Though jelly fungi grow at all times of year I think of them as winter fungi because that’s usually when I find them. I often see them on fallen branches, often oak or alder, and I always wonder how they got way up in the tree tops. We also have black, white, red, orange and amber jelly fungi and I’d have to say that white and red are the rarest. I think I’ve seen each color only two or three times. An odd fact about jelly fungi is that they can be parasitic on other fungi.

There are lots of striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) growing along Beaver Brook. They have colorful twigs and buds and are among the easiest trees to identify no matter what time of year because of the green and white vertical stripes on their bark. Their terminal buds have two scales and are valvate, meaning they have two bud scales. Striped maple is very fussy about where it grows and will not stand pollution, heat, or drought. It likes cool, shady places with sandy soil that stays moist. They bloom in June and have very pretty green bell shaped blossoms.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) also does well along the brook. Their buds are naked, meaning they have no scales to protect them, so they have wooly hair instead. This photo shows that the flower bud in the center and the two leaf buds on either side are clothed more in wool than hair, but they come through the coldest winters and still bloom beautifully each spring.

The chubby little green and purple buds of red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) are some of my favorites, but I don’t see them often. Lucky they grow along the brook in places so I could admire them on this day. Red elderberry buds have imbricate scales, meaning they overlap like shingles. Soon the buds will swell and the purple scales will pull back to reveal the green scales underneath.

Here was something I’ve never seen; the normally round buds of red elderberry had elongated. There were several that had done this and I can’t figure out why they would have. Maybe they can gather more sunlight with this shape and are evolving right before the eyes that care enough to watch.

When light rain or drizzle falls on cold snow it can freeze into a crust and that’s what had happened during the last storm. The shiny crust can be very hard to capture on film but here it is, on the other side of the brook. Crusty snow can be awfully hard to walk on because it acts like it will support your weight, but at the last minute it breaks and your foot falls through it. Having it happen over and over makes for a jarring and tiring walk.

A tree fell perfectly and wrapped its arms around another.

Native witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) also line the banks of Beaver Brook. This is a shot of the recently opened seed pods, which explode with force and can throw the seeds as far as 30 feet. I’ve read that you can hear them pop when they open and even though I keep trying to be there at the right time to see and hear it happening, I never am. Seeing the ice on the one on the left, I’m wondering if the pods hold water.

I like to visit my old friend the stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) when I’m here. It’s a very beautiful moss that grows on stones as far north as the arctic tundra. It seems fairly rare here; this is the only example that I’ve seen, and it doesn’t seem to be spreading. When dry stair step moss has a slight satiny sheen to it, and that’s probably how it came by its other common name of glittering wood-moss. The name stair step moss comes from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. It is said that you can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps.

The liverwort called greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata) was frozen absolutely solid. Even frozen it still reminds me of centipedes. It’s very easy to mistake this common liverwort for moss so you have to look closely. The root-like growths are new branches. They aren’t always present but sometimes there will be a lot of them as there were here. This was a happy liverwort, even though it was frozen.

This scene of green algae in a seep reminded me of spring. Hydrologically speaking a seep is a wet place where water reaches the surface from an underground aquifer. This seep is a warm one; in all the years I’ve known it I’ve never seen it completely freeze. Seeps don’t have a single point of origin like a spring, instead they form a puddle that never dries up and doesn’t flow. They’re an important water source for many small animals and birds and unusual plants and fungi can often be found in and around them.

The waters of the stream played the part of the orchestra, and the sunlight provided the dancers. Every now and then a crescendo of wind highlighted the symphony in the clearing by the creek.
~Edward Mooney Jr.

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1. Transparent Slime Mold

We’re really getting a taste of high summer now with frequent thunderstorms, 90 degree temperatures, and high humidly. As soon as that happens I start thinking about fungi and slime molds because those are the conditions that many of them prefer. Unfortunately slime molds can be difficult to identify and, even after hours of looking through books and online, I still can’t identify the tiny transparent slime mold in the above photo. Some slime molds start life transparent and then change both their shape and color, which doesn’t help. They also often grow in very dark places, so some of these photos were taken under LED light.

 2. White Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa Slime Mold

The reason slime molds interest me is because they are very beautiful, and also fascinating. Nobody really seems to know exactly how they move, but they do. When the microorganisms that they feed on become scarce, many of these single celled organisms meld together and move toward food as a single entity. The white finger slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. fruticulosa) in the above photo reminded me of a bed of kelp under the sea, all swaying in unison to the pull of a tide only they can feel.

 3. White Slime Mold

I’ve never seen this slime mold before and I was surprised to see the tiny gray starbursts, which must have been 1/16 of an inch or less, when I looked at the photo. I couldn’t see them in person because they were too small. I haven’t been able to identify them but I think that they are beautiful things. This photo was taken with the aid of an LED light.

4. Yellow Many Headed Slime Mold

As slime molds go, this many headed slime (Physarum polycephalum) is usually large and easy to see. This one covered the base of a tree. It was in its plasmodial stage and on the move. This photo was also taken with the aid of an LED light.

According to Wikipedia “a plasmodial slime mold is enclosed within a single membrane without walls and is one large cell. This super cell (a syncytium) is essentially a bag of cytoplasm containing thousands of individual nuclei.” Slime molds aren’t plants and they aren’t fungi. They come closer to being amoebas than anything else and are believed by some to have simple brains. My question is, how do they know what the others are “thinking?” They seem to have the same “group think” abilities as a school of fish or a flock of birds, and that is quite amazing.

5. Weeping Fuligo septica Slime Mold

No need for LED with this scrambled egg (Fuligo septica) slime mold. It is one of a handful that can be found in full sun. The example in the photo is in its spore bearing phase and has formed a mass called an aethalium. Once it has released its spores and completed its life cycle it begins to darken and degrade into a dark red liquid that resembles blood, which can also be seen in the photo. This slime mold feeds on wood and is often found in mulch beds. This one was on a white pine stump.

6. White Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa Slime Mold

One of my favorite shapes in the slime mold world is found in these honeycombed, dome shaped fruiting bodies of coral slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. porioides). They are so small and delicate that one swipe of a finger could wipe out hundreds of them. To find them I look at logs after a rain; to the naked eye they look like white powder on the side of the log. Luckily a shaft of sunlight lit this area enough so I didn’t have to use artificial lighting for this photo.

7. White Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa Slime Mold 2

In this photo, also in natural light, it looked like individual coral slime plasmodia were moving together to form a single mass. Slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism.

8. Yellow Coral Fungi aka Ramariopsis laeticolor

Slime molds aren’t the only tiny things that like to grow in dark places. I had to use a flash to get a shot of these yellow coral fungi (Ramariopsis laeticolor.) Each one was no bigger in diameter than a piece of cooked spaghetti, and they stood all of a quarter inch high.

I should say that, though slime molds and fungi like growing in dark places everything needs at least some light, and as I wandered the forest getting some of these photos one morning, I noticed that shafts of cool morning sunlight fell directly on or very near where they grew. Just because we may find them growing “in the dark,” and even though they don’t photosynthesize, that doesn’t mean that they don’t get an hour or two of sunlight each day. Sunlight also brings warmth and as I’ve studied fungi and slime molds over the years I’ve wondered if the reason they grow in a shaft of sunlight is because the soil is warmer there.

9. Dead Man's Finger aka Xylaria polymorpha

Dead man’s fingers (Xylaria polymorphaare) are a type of fungi that often look like a human finger. This one growing out of a crack in a beech log didn’t, but that was because it was a young example. They change their appearance as they age. This one had water droplets on it.

10. Dead Man's Fingers aka Xylaria polymorpha

As they age dead man’s finger fungi begin to darken. The lighter areas are covered with spores that are produced in early stages of their development. These fungi cause soft rot in the wood they grow on. Insects or slugs seem to love them, judging by the damage on these examples.

11. Dead Man's Finger aka Xylaria polymorpha

In the final stages of their life dead man’s finger fungi darken until they turn black, and then they simply fall over and decompose. These examples grew at the base of a maple stump. It doesn’t take a very vivid imagination to see what almost look like fingernails on a couple of them. Maybe I should have saved these photos for Halloween.

 12. Marasmius rotula Mushrooms

Even on its lowest setting the LED light I use to photograph mushrooms and slime molds casts a shadow, so I use tissue paper as a diffuser to make the light softer. This photo of these little pinwheel mushrooms (Marasmius rotula) shows what happens when I forget the tissue paper. I’ve been trying to think of a way to eliminate the tissue paper altogether but so far haven’t had any brilliant ideas.

13. Yellow Jelly Fungus

Witches butter (Tremella mesenterica) comes to life when it rains and can swell up dramatically from the hard, dark orange flake form that it takes in dry weather. I find this jelly fungus on tree limbs but it can also be a parasite on other types of fungi. The tremella part of its scientific name comes from the Latin tremere which means “to tremble,” and it does tremble just like gelatin. The mesenterica part of the scientific name is a combination of the Greek mesos, meaning “middle” and the prefix entero meaning “intestine.” Though the example in the photo doesn’t show it, the shape of this fungus often looks quite intestinal.

This is an excellent example of why we should pay attention to scientific names. The description provided by the scientific name of this fungus describes it perfectly in every detail, whereas “witches butter” tells us absolutely nothing, except maybe that the folks who roamed medieval forests were highly superstitious.

14. Splitgill Mushrooms

These are the largest split gill fungi (Schizophyllum commune) that I’ve ever seen; easily 3/4 of an inch across. The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds on its underside that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile surfaces as the mushroom shrivels in dry weather. When rehydrated by rain the splits reopen, exposing the spore-producing surfaces to the air, and spores are released. Split gills grow on every continent except Antarctica and are said to be the most studied mushrooms on earth.

15. Unidentified Slug

This hot humid weather brings out other creatures too. I’ve seen pink slugs eating fungi many times, but this one leaned more towards yellow-orange and must have been 2 inches long. It was quite dark where it was so I had to use the flash. Slug identification seems close to impossible, at least for me, so I can’t tell you its name.

Beauty is certainly a soft, smooth, slippery thing, and therefore of a nature which easily slips in and permeates our souls. ~Plato

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

 

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