An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Fungus

Giant Puffball Fruiting Bodies Appearing

10-14-13 giant puffball 051 The fruiting bodies of Giant Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) are quite distinctive looking — typically they grow to the size of a soccer ball, but the record specimen measured eight feet, eight inches in diameter and weighed 50 pounds. According to Cornell, it’s been calculated that a single ten-inch Giant Puffball has as many as 7 trillion spores. If each of those spores grew and yielded a ten-inch puffball, the combined puffball mass would be 800 times that of the earth. Look for Giant Puffballs in the fall, growing on lawns, grassy meadows and open woods, sometimes in clusters, sometimes singly. If you find one and it is still white and relatively young, foraging is an option. Dissecting it to be sure it doesn’t have any gills is essential (there are gilled poisonous mushrooms that start out looking somewhat like puffballs); as with all fungi that you’re thinking of ingesting, it’s best to have an expert along to identify it.

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Pinesap Flowering

8-5-13 pinesap3  125Pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys), like its close relative Indian Pipe, is a flowering plant which has no chlorophyll, and therefore is not green. Often found under pine trees, Pinesap’s color ranges from yellow to pink, red, orange or brown or some combination of these. Because it has no chlorophyll, it also cannot obtain energy from sunlight. (Therefore, it can thrive in very shady areas.) Pinesap gets its nutrients from other plants’ roots, but not directly. Mycorrhizal fungi are the middlemen, connecting the roots of Pinesap with those of its host plant, allowing nutrients to be passed along from the host plant to the Pinesap. This fungi-dependent relationship is called mycotropism. Similar to Indian Pipe, during fruiting Pinesap’s previously-nodding stem straightens, becoming erect.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Stinky Squid Fungus

7-16-13  Pseudocolus fusiformis 225There is no way you can walk by the fruiting body of Pseudocolus fusiformis, a member of the Stinkhorn family Phallaceae, without noticing it. Its shape is markedly different from most fungi, in that it has three or four separate orange “arms” which are fused at the top. If your eyes don’t detect it, your nose most certainly will. Also known as “Stinky Squid,” this fungus emits a strong, putrid odor which comes from the dark green, spore-bearing slimy material (gleba) that is found on the inner surfaces of the arms. This smell attracts insects, primarily flies, which inadvertently disperse spores after visiting the fungus. Look for round egg-like whitish structures at the base of Pseudocolus fusimormis – these are young fruiting bodies that have yet to develop arms. (Thanks to Shiela Swett for photo op.)


Dead Man’s Fingers

6-17-13 dead man's fingers 028Typically you find this fungus growing from the base of a rotting stump, poking up through the ground like a dead man’s fingers — hence, the name. The “fingers”, or fruiting bodies, can take many forms, including individual fingers or fused fingers that resemble a hand. It’s thought that Dead Man’s Fingers, Xylaria polymorpha, is actually several species of fungi, which have yet to be identified. In the spring, this fungus is covered with light-colored, asexual spores, which give it a grayish tint. As it matures, it darkens with the production of mature spores, eventually turning black. Most fungi disperse their spores over a period of a few hours or days. Dead Man’s Fingers is much slower, releasing its spores over many months or even years. (Thanks to Marian and Charles Marrin for photo op.)


Yellow Lady’s Slipper Flowering

5-30-13 yellow lady's slipper 063There are only about three short weeks in the late spring when the blossoms of Yellow Lady’s Slippers grace our woodlands and wetlands. The production of an orchid is a complicated process. If pollination and fertilization are successful, hundreds of thousands of some of the smallest seeds of any flowers are scattered by the wind. The seeds of Yellow Lady’s Slippers (and other orchids), unlike those of most flowering plants, contain no food for the seedling plant. In addition, the coating surrounding the seed is extremely tough, so much so that the seed can’t germinate until Rhizoctonia fungi digest the outer coating, which allows the inner seed to access soil nutrients. This can take two years or more and then it may take another few years for the plant to produce a flower.


Spalted Wood

12-18-12 spalted bowl-maple,%20spalted%20bowl%204%20mike%20hawkins%201b%20s100%20q60%20web As an impressive number of people knew, the black markings on the yellow birch were caused by fungi that create what is called “spalting” in trees. When the temperature (70 – 90 degrees F.) and moisture content (30%) of certain trees (birch, beech and maple, most commonly) is just right, colonies of fungi infect them. There are different forms of spalting – the pictured fine black lines are referred to as “zone lines.” They are created when incompatible colonies of fungi come into contact with each other and lay down barriers to separate their territories. The presence of spalting indicates that the decay process has begun. Spalted wood’s natural beauty is highly regarded by wood turners and is held in contempt by the lumber industry (with time, the wood softens and weakens as it decomposes). As the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources so eloquently states, “Spalted wood embodies all that is curious in the natural world. It is formed by unseen organisms at a specific time and place that only it knows.” (Thanks to John Gutowski for yesterday’s yellow birch mystery photo and the HobbitHouse for the bowl photograph.)


Why Many Lichens Are So Green After It Rains

12-4-12 wet lichen IMG_6171Have you ever noticed that the color of some lichens is a more intense green after they get wet? There’s a very good explanation for this phenomenon. Lichens are made up of an alga or cyanobacterium and a fungus. The alga or cyanobacterium makes the food, and the fungus absorbs the water. A typical lichen has a three-layered structure. A middle layer containing algal cells entwined in threadlike fungus fibers called hyphae is sandwiched between two layers of fungal tissue. Lichens that turn bright green after it rains contain green algae which contains chlorophyll, a green pigment. When it rains, the fungus (which surrounds the algae) soaks up water like a sponge, causing the fungus to become more transparent, which allows the green pigment of the algae to be seen more clearly.


A Great Christmas Present!

If you’re looking for a present for someone that will be used year round, year after year, Naturally Curious may just fit the bill.  A relative, a friend, your child’s school teacher – it’s the gift that keeps on giving to both young and old!

One reader wrote, “This is a unique book as far as I know. I have several naturalists’ books covering Vermont and the Northeast, and have seen nothing of this breadth, covered to this depth. So much interesting information about birds, amphibians, mammals, insects, plants. This would be useful to those in the mid-Atlantic, New York, and even wider geographic regions. The author gives a month-by-month look at what’s going on in the natural world, and so much of the information would simply be moved forward or back a month in other regions, but would still be relevant because of the wide overlap of species. Very readable. Couldn’t put it down. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about the natural world, but there was much that was new to me in this book. I would have loved to have this to use as a text when I was teaching. Suitable for a wide range of ages.”

In a recent email to me a parent wrote, “Naturally Curious is our five year old’s unqualified f-a-v-o-r-I-t-e  book. He spends hours regularly returning to it to study it’s vivid pictures and have us read to him about all the different creatures. It is a ‘must have’ for any family with children living in New England…or for anyone that simply shares a love of the outdoors.”

I am a firm believer in fostering a love of nature in young children – the younger the better — but I admit that when I wrote Naturally Curious, I was writing it with adults in mind. It delights me no end to know that children don’t even need a grown-up middleman to enjoy it!


Shaggy Mane

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Shaggy Mane, Coprinus comatus, is one of a group of mushrooms known as Inky Caps.  Both of these common names reflect the appearance of the mushroom at different stages of its development – the cap has white, shaggy scales, and as the mushroom matures its gills liquefy into a black substance that was once used as ink. Most Inky Caps have gills that are very thin and very close to one another, which does not allow for easy release of the spores.  In addition, the elongated shape of this mushroom does not allow for the spores to get caught in air currents as in most other mushrooms. The liquification/self-digestion process is actually a strategy to disperse spores more efficiently. The gills liquefy from the bottom up as the spores mature. Thus the cap peels up and away, and the maturing spores are always kept in the best position for catching wind currents. This continues until the entire fruiting body has turned into black ink.


Yellow-orange Fly Agaric Mushroom

The Yellow-orange Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria var. formosa) is common in New England, especially where conifers grow.  Out West this mushroom is often a bright red color, but in the East it’s typically orange/yellow.  When certain gilled mushrooms, including many Amanita species, first form, they are encased in a membrane called a “universal veil.”  As the mushroom enlarges and matures, the veil ruptures, with remnants of it remaining on the mushroom’s cap.  Fly Agaric fungi got their name from the custom of placing little pieces of the mushroom in milk to attract flies.  The flies supposedly become inebriated and crash into walls and die.  This mushroom is somewhat poisonous (as are many Amanita species) and hallucinogenic when consumed by humans.  The toxins affect the part of the brain that is responsible for fear, turning off the fear emotion.  Vikings, who had a reputation for fierceness, are said to have ingested this mushroom prior to invading a village.


Red Squirrel Sign

If you find a mushroom hanging in an unlikely spot, such as from tree branches or tucked into the bark of a tree where it didn’t grow, it’s likely that you have happened upon the work of a red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus).  Red squirrels are known for their habit of snipping mushrooms and hanging them from branches and rough bark in order to dry them before collecting them and caching them for dining on later in the winter.   Unlike beavers, which share their stored cache of winter food with family members, red squirrels keep their cached fungi all to themselves.


Chicken of the Woods

If you see a bright orange and yellow shelf fungus on a living or dead tree, chances are that it is Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus).  It can grow in fairly impressive clumps of up to 100 pounds.   The pictured shelves of this fungus extend well over 20 feet along the rotting tree trunk, and this was only half of total amount present.  Chicken of the Woods doesn’t appear until well after the fungus has attacked the tree, and because it causes heart rot, the center of the living tree on which it grows is often hollow.  Young Chicken of the Woods (particularly the growing edge of the fruiting body) is considered a great find by fungi foragers, as its taste resembles chicken – hence, its common name.  Although it’s been considered one of the “foolproof four” fungi that can be eaten, similar species have recently been found which are not edible, so some people advise foraging with caution.  (Thanks to Hilary Hamilton for photo op.)


Bear’s Head Tooth Fungus

 There is a group of fungi known as tooth fungi, due to the fact that they produce spores on tooth-like projections, not pores or gills.  Bear’s Head Tooth Fungus, Hericium americanum, also known as Lion’s Mane, Monkey Head or Icicle Mushroom, is a tooth fungus that is fruiting now.  This delicious (its taste is somewhat reminiscent of lobster) fleshy fungus is among the safest, most unmistakable of all of North America’s species of edible wild mushrooms; it looks like a cluster of white fungal icicles hanging off a decaying log, stump, or dead tree trunk.  Bear’s Head Tooth Fungus fruits on a number of different kinds of deciduous trees, particularly beech, maple, birch, oak, walnut, and sycamore.  Distinguishing between the species of Hericium can be tricky, but all species are edible and tasty.  Even so, I recommend having someone very familiar with edible fungi along to confirm identification the first time you harvest it.  (Thanks to Peter Stettenheim for photo op.)


Giant Puffball

This is the time for Giant Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) to magically appear in fields and meadows overnight. Puffballs are different from most fungi, in that their spores are all contained within them, as opposed to being produced by gills under a cap. Giant Puffballs more than deserve their common and scientific names — they can reach a diameter of five feet and weigh up to 44 pounds! Some foragers do eat immature puffballs, but beware, as they closely resemble a poisonous mushroom at this stage, and once their spores mature, they can cause digestive distress. (Thanks to Knox & Harmony Farm for photo op.)


Lobster Mushroom

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Lobster mushrooms  are so named because they look a bit like lobsters – red/orange “shells” on the outside with white inside. A lobster mushroom is actually two fungi in one – the parasitic  fungus, Hypomyces lactifluorum (red/orange outer crust), and the mushroom being parasitized by the lobster mushroom (white, inner flesh, usually a Russula or Lactarius mushroom). Hypomyces lactifluorum has only been known to parasitize non-poisonous mushrooms and it has been eaten for hundreds of years without any known problems. Still, it is conceivable that it could parasitize a poisonous mushroom, rendering it harmful to the forager.


Yellow Lady’s Slipper

Yellow lady’s slipper, Cypripedium pubescens, is in flower in central Vermont/New Hampshire, gracing woodlands and bogs with its beauty. This plant has what is called a mycorrhizal association, a relationship with a fungus that colonizes its roots. This mutually beneficial association provides the fungus with carbohydrates from its host plant, the yellow lady’s slipper, and enables the yellow lady’s slipper to have increased mineral absorption due to the fungus’s large surface area. More than 90 percent of plant species are believed to form a symbiotic arrangement with beneficial soil fungi.


Field Horsetail – Equisetum arvense

4-11-12  Field Horsetail – Equisetum arvense

Look for this perennial non-flowering plant by the side of the road, where its fertile stalks are starting to poke up through the soil.  A relative of ferns, horsetail reproduces by means of spores which are located in the cone-like structure at the tip of the fertile stalk.  The green, bristly vegetative stalks that give this plant its common name will soon appear. Horsetail’s use as an herbal remedy dates back to ancient Roman and Greek medicine. It was used traditionally to stop bleeding, heal ulcers and wounds, and treat tuberculosis and kidney problems. Because of the silica in this plant, horesetail is used today by organic farmers to rid soil of the effect of excess moisture that promotes the growth of fungi. Relatively recently horsetail has been suggested as a treatment for osteoporosis, also because of the silica it contains, a mineral needed for bone health. 

 


White Pine Blister Rust Attracts Rodents

When a white pine has been infected with white pine blister rust (a fungus), cankers appear on the branches and sometimes the trunk of the tree.  A large amount of sap-like ooze flows from the cankered areas, sometime drying and resembling a sugary-looking crust or film.  These areas are, in fact, high in sugar content, and rodents frequently chew them.  It’s likely that a red squirrel visited and sampled the infected white pine in the photograph, leaving a freshly-gnawed patch in the bark.


Beech Bark Disease

 Anyone familiar with the beautiful, smooth, gray bark of American beech is well aware that the forest landscape is changing, in part due to the disease that is affecting American beeches. Beech bark disease is caused by not one, but two, agents – an insect and a fungus.  The bark of an American beech is initially attacked and altered by the soft-bodied scale insect, Cryptococcus fagisuga, after which it is invaded and killed by fungi, usually Nectria coccinea var. faginata or N. gallegina. This scale insect was accidentally introduced to Nova Scotia around 1890 and since then has spread far and wide, affecting large American beech trees (over 8 inches) the most.  Pale yellow eggs are laid by the yellow female scale insects (there are no males – they reproduce through parthenogenesis) on the bark of beech trees in mid-summer and hatch in the late summer or fall.  Larvae begin to feed on the bark until winter when they transform into a stage that has no legs and is covered with wool-like wax. The white wax secreted by beech scale insects is the first sign of the disease – heavy infestations of beech scale can cover tree trunks with white wax. Serious damage results only after the invasion of the bark by either one of the fungi mentioned, presumably through injuries made by scale feeding activity.

 


Naturally Curious wins National Outdoor Book Award

I am delighted to be able to tell you that this morning I learned that NATURALLY CURIOUS won the Nature Guidebook category of the 2011 National Outdoor Book Awards.  I’m honored and humbled by this recognition.   http://www.noba-web.org/books11.htm


Netted Stinkhorn

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The way I discovered this netted stinkhorn fungus (Dictyophora duplicata) was the same way flies find it – the odor emanating from it is much like that of a decomposing body.  This odor comes from the spores of the stinkhorn – the  slimy, olive-green matter on the head, or top portion of the fungus.  When mature, the spores have a fetid odor which successfully lures insects to the stinkhorn.  They eventually depart from the fungus, and procede to disperse the spores that stuck to them far and wide.   Although it’s not too discernible in these photographs, netted stinkhorns derive their name from a fishnet-like veil, or skirt, below the head of the fungus.

 


Coral Fungus

It is not hard to figure out how coral fungus got its name, with its branching fruiting bodies that resemble aquatic coral.  These fungi come in a rainbow of colors – white, yellow, orange, red, purple and tan, depending on the species.   Typically found growing on the forest floor, coral fungi bear their spores on the sides of their branches (not on or ingills or pores, like many fungi).  All fungi that look like coral were originally lumped into one group, but DNA analysis has determined that while these fungi may look alike, there are many differences between them, and taxonomically they belong to many different families. While many species are edible, some species are poisonous, and distinguishing between the two can be extremely challenging.


Fungi are Flourishing

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 While the recent rains have been the bane of many humans’ existence, they have provided the perfect conditions for fungi to produce fruiting bodies. Spore-bearing mushrooms of all shapes, sizes and colors adorn the forest floor this fall. You don’t have to be a forager of edible fungi in order to enjoy the colorful array of these non-flowering plants.  Starting with the red Amanita caesarea, the following images are of Amanita muscaria, Cortinarius sp., Boletus sp., Amanita pantherina and Gomphus floccosus.


Eyelash Cup Fungus

Fungi can be divided into two groups – basidiomycetes and ascomycetes.  Basidiomycetes (gilled mushrooms, coral fungus, hedgehog  mushrooms, puffballs, bird’s nest fungus) produce spores on the surface of microscopic cells called basidea.  Ascomycetes (morels, cup fungi, stinkhorns) produce their spores within microscopic sacs (asci).  The slug in this photograph is dining on an ascomycete  — eyelash cup fungus (Scutellinia scutellata), the rim of which bears many stiff, eyelash-like hairs.


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