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Fungi

Fairy Rings

Occasionally, if you’re lucky, you may come upon a circle of mushrooms in the woods or in a lawn.  To some, these are Fairy Rings, where the fairies dance.  To those more scientifically minded, they are the fruiting bodies of an underground fungus (mycelium) that is growing outward in all directions from an initial spot (in the center of the ring), feeding on nutrients in the soil.  As it grows, the mycelieum secretes enzymes into the ground ahead of it. These chemicals break down the organic matter, releasing nutrients so that the mycelium will have food when it reaches this area. When conditions are right for spore production, the active mycelium produces a circle of mushrooms just behind its outer edge.  Growth of the mycelium continues, accompanied by the formation of wider and wider circles of fruiting bodies every year.

There are roughly 60 species of fungi that produce Fairy Rings.  As a rule they form these in evenly composed soil, such as lawns and less frequently in woods.  It’s possible to recognize Fairy Ring evens when they haven’t sent up mushrooms, as they form rings of grass up to 15 feet in diameter that have a distinctly different color or texture than the grass inside or outside of the ring. (A Fairy Ring in France measured 2,000 feet in diameter and was estimated to be 700 years old.)  (Photos by Julie George)

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Green Stain Fungus Fruiting

Sac fungi, or ascomycetes, are a group of fungi most of which possess sacs, or asci, in which spores are produced. The relatively common blue-green cup fungi, Chlorociboria aeruginascens and its close relative, Chlorociboria aeruginosa, are in this group and are referred to as Green Stain Fungi (as well as Green Elfcup or Green Wood Cup). Most of the time you do not see the actual fruiting bodies of these fungi.  More often you come across the brilliantly blue-green stained wood (often rotting logs of poplar, aspen, ash and oak) for which these fungi are responsible. Woodworkers call this wood “green rot” or “green stain.” 14th and 15th century Italian Renaissance woodworkers used Chlorociboria-infected wood to provide the green colors in their intricate wood inlays. The blue-green discoloration is caused by the production of the pigment xylindein, which may make wood less appealing to termites and has been studied for its cancer-fighting properties.

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Giant Puffballs Maturing

10-17-18 giant puffball IMG_4353Puffballs are aptly named.  When their spores mature and the fruiting body splits open, rain drops, an animal passing by, or the wind cause puffs of spores to burst into the air,  dispersing them far and wide.  While puffballs vary tremendously in size, most would fit in your hand.  Exceptions include Giant Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea), one of which was collected in 1877 in New York state and measured 5 ½ inches by 4 ½ inches by 6 ¾  feet. The greatest recorded weight for a Giant Puffball is 44 pounds.

The production of spores takes place on basidia – club-like structures inside the fruiting body. The number of spores that these fungi produce is impressive. Mycologist Henry Buller estimated that a Giant Puffball measuring 16” x 11” x 8” (a fairly typical size) would contain more than 7 trillion spores.  (If you want to grow your own Giant Puffball so you can count the spores yourself, you can even purchase seeding spores online!)

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Stinkhorns Maturing

10-5-18 dog stinkhorn IMG_9973There are a group of fungi known as stinkhorns — aptly named, as their foul odor can be detected even by the human nose. All stinkhorns first appear as an “egg” which can be up to two inches high. When the eggs rupture, the appearance of the different species of fungi in this family (Phallaceae) can differ dramatically, but many have a phallic-like shape. At maturity, all stinkhorns produce an olive-green to olive-brown slimy substance that has a putrid smell (to humans), but is very appealing to many insects.  This slime is loaded with the fungi’s spores. Insects landing on a stinkhorn get their feet covered with the spore-laden slime while they are busy ingesting it.  Once the insects depart, the spores are dispersed far and wide.

Stinkhorns appear suddenly, and their growth can almost be observed, as they go from the egg stage to maturity with impressive speed. While these fungi are not poisonous, it is doubtful that having smelled them, anyone would desire to eat them.  (Photo:  Dog Stinkhorn aka Devil’s Dipstick, Mutinus caninus)

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Chicken of the Woods Fruiting

8-22-18 chicken of the woods_U1A5581

Even though Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) is one of the few edible fungi that is easily identified, it’s always best to have an expert confirm its identity if you are collecting it for consumption.  The bright yellow and orange coloring of its bulky, fan-shaped shelves is distinctive. On the underside of these shelves you will find tiny pores, instead of gills, containing spores, making it a polypore mushroom.  You can find single clusters of this fungus growing on living and dead trees, as well as logs totally covered with them.

Chicken of the Woods gets its name from its taste and texture, which is much like that of chicken.  If you are foraging for a meal, you want to be sure to pick a young specimen, and eat the outermost portion of the shelves (for their tenderness).  There are several species of Laetiporus fungi; the ones growing on hardwood are preferable for eating.

Chicken of the Woods is saprotrophic – the fungus feeds on dead trees.  It is also parasitic, and kills living host trees by causing the wood to rot, and the tree to become hollow and easily topple over.

For those interested, here is a recipe that the Oregon Mycological Society recommends:

POLYPORE OMELET

3 Tablespoons butter

1 cup diced Chicken of the Woods

1/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack or cream cheese

2 or 3 shallots, diced

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

5 or 6 eggs

1/2 cup cream or half and half

Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy frying pan over low heat.

Beat the eggs and cream, add salt and pepper to taste; pour into the pan.

As the eggs start to cook, sprinkle the Chicken of the Woods, cheese, shallots and parsley over the top.

Cook for 1 to 2 minutes more until the egg mixture sets.

Fold the omelet over and remove from the heat; cover and let sit for 1 minute.

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Hard-boiled Eggs & Lollipops: American Caesar’s Mushrooms Forming Fruiting Bodies

8-8-18 American Caesar's mushroom_U1A5159

This is not the first Naturally Curious post on American Caesar’s Mushrooms, nor will it probably be the last.  Every August the forest floor is bursting with the beautiful fruiting bodies of these fungi, and I find the urge to photograph them as well as the desire to celebrate their beauty with you irresistible. Pardon the repetition.

American Caesar’s Mushroom (Amanita jacksonii), a member of the Amanita genus found in New England, differs from most Amanita species in at least two ways. It is one of the few edible Amanitas (most species are poisonous, so consumption is discouraged unless an expert identifies the fungus). Secondly, unlike many other Amanita species, American Caesar’s Mushroom does not usually have any warts or patches on its cap.

The common name of this mushroom traces back to the fact that its close relative, Caesar’s Mushroom, Amanita caesarea, which grows in Italy, was a favorite of the emperors of the Roman Empire, the Caesars. Both of these species of Amanita are mycorrhizal, forming a symbiotic beneficial relationship with the roots of certain trees. Look for American Caesar’s Mushrooms under pine and oak. (Main photo: American Caesar’s Mushroom rupturing through its protective white membrane, or universal veil, as it matures, leaving a remnant white cup, or volva, at its base.)

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Land Snails Eating

7-20-18 snail_U1A2042While there are some terrestrial snails that are omnivorous and even carnivorous, most are herbivorous.  Each species has a diet dependent on its size, age, habitat and individual nutritional requirements.  They all must feed on foods that include significant amounts of calcium in order to keep their shell hard.

Those species that are herbivorous consume a variety of plants, including the leaves, stems, bark and fruits, as well as fungi and occasionally algae.  They do so in an unusual way. Snails have an organ in their mouth with rows of tiny teeth, called a radula.  When the food reaches this structure that looks like a sack, the teeth do not cut or grind it like human teeth would. Instead of being chewed, the radula scrapes the food and breaks it down before it passes through the esophagus to continue the digestion process.

The tiny teeth on the radula suffer much wear and tear as time passes. Therefore, they are continually replaced by others. Not all species have the same number of teeth. Some have rows with just a few teeth, while others have hundreds.

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