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.
American goldfinches are late nesters – it is not uncommon for them to be raising young in August, and occasionally even into September. Recently while walking through a wet meadow, I became aware of a sudden burst of activity to my right. Unbeknownst to me, I had come quite close to an American goldfinch nest which was full of nestlings on the brink of fledging. As I passed by, the young burst explosively from their nest. Two fluttered to the ground and quickly sought cover, one flew a short distance into some shrubs, and one remained in the nest. Regardless of where they sought shelter, the young will be fed and cared for by their parents for the next three weeks or so.
The downward “nodding” curve of its tubular flowers gives Nodding Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes cernua) part of its common name. ( I’m not sure where the reference to tresses, or a woman’s long locks or braid of hair, comes from.) The bright white flower spike of this relatively common member of the Orchid family stands out in moist meadows of green grasses. A perennial, Nodding Ladies’ Tresses grows between 4 and 12 inches tall, and is pollinated by both long and short-tongued nectar-seeking bees.
Most species of snakes lay eggs (oviparous), but some give birth to live young (viviparous), including the common gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis). Gartersnakes are born at this time of year, and are on their own from the moment of birth. The greatest number of gartersnakes to be born in a single litter is 98, but 14 – 40 is more typical. The common gartersnake in the accompanying photograph is a newborn, measuring 6 inches in length.
Dead Man’s Fingers (Xylaria polymorpha) is a fungus that can be found growing from the bases of rotting stumps, and gets its common name from the way its fruiting body pokes up through the ground like a dead man’s fingers. “Xylaria” refers to growing on wood and “polymorpha” means many forms. This species has a very variable fruiting body, sometimes with many separate “fingers” and sometimes with the fingers fused into something more like a hand.