Forest Floor in Winter: Sans Snow – Part I – COLOR!

I let the dog out at 4:15am and it appears we got a dusting overnight.  Yesterday I spent over 2 hours in the woods sans snow and took around 120 photos… enough to last for a handful of posts, anyway.  When my daughter reviewed them with me, she asked, “How can you find so much color at this time of year?”  So I guess I’ll start with the colorful collection…

More fungi, of course:

FungiTurkey Tail Fungus (Trametes versicolor) is very abundant in the woods.  It lives on dead or nearly dead trees, helping to break down the wood and return the nutrients to the soil.  People don’t eat Turkey Tail even though it is non-poisonous because it is leathery and not very appetizing.  That doesn’t seem to stop gray squirrels, box turtles, beetles, slugs, pillbugs, or gnats.

As the Latin name suggests, this fungus can be many different colors… tan, brown, green, maroon, orange, or blue.  The orange ones really caught my eye yesterday!

Orange Bracket Fungus

Orange Fungus on LogI also found this strange orange fungus.  I haven’t looked it up yet…  Isn’t it unusual?

Berries:

Just as I entered the woods, I saw a flash of red.  I assumed Partridgeberry.  But no…  I’m not sure what this is, and it’s not that great a photo for ID.  Any guesses?

Wintergreen or Teaberry... Thanks to readers for help with ID!

PartridgeberryNow this is Partidgeberry (Mitchella repens) and as I got a little deeper into the woods, there was plenty of it!  Partridgeberries are edible, but tasteless… so you might as well leave them for the deer and the birds.  It is reported that a tea from the leaves of this plant was used by native Americans in the last few weeks of pregnancy to aid with the birth.  This accounts for another common name: Squawvine.  I read that here:  <click>

Colorful LeafletLeaves:

Finally, I leave you with a leaf.  I don’t know what kind it is.  I loved the colors!

Tomorrow:  patterns…

Lycoperdon pyriforme

Admit it:  when you were a kid in school (or maybe still now) the act of breaking wind sent you into wild hysterics.  And if someone spoke of the act using that one-syllable word that starts with f…  well, Teacher, you may as well write off the rest of That Lesson!  What does that have to do with fungi?  Read on…

FungusWhen I posted fungi photos from my hike in Chautauqua Gorge, a reader (thanks, Rurality) pointed me in the direction of the ID of one of the species.  After following her clue, I learned the following:

My fungus is probably Lycoperdon pyriforme.

Pyriforme means “pear-shaped,” so you might think a good common name for this fungus would be “Pear-shaped Puffballs.”  But noooooooo…..

Lyco comes from the Greek for “wolf.”  Perdon in Greek means “to break wind.”  Sooooooo….  This is Wolf-fart Puffball.  I kid you not.

Fungus CloseupHere is the sad part of this post:  DNA testing prompted mycologists in 2003 to move this fungus…  it’s new name is Morganella pyriformis.  I don’t know what Morganella means… but I hope we can still call it Wolf-fart Puffball, don’t you?  If not, then I just HAVE TO find the other puffballs that are still called Lycoperdon!

I guess I’m still that little kid that finds the word “fart” giggle-worthy…

Learn more:

Fungi Fanatic

I only set out to find the varieties mentioned in Donald Stokes’ A Guide to Nature in Winter.  I found most of those.  And now I keep finding more!  Yesterday, I spent most of the daylight hours in Chautauqua Gorge.  While my eye was drawn by many things, most of my photos were of fungi… again…

Witch's ButterThis one is called “Witch’s Butter.”  It is a jelly fungus, which is strange because even though it looks gelatinous, it is hard to the touch.  I was really excited when I found some at Audubon a few days ago because I had never seen it before.  (Or at least, never noticed it before…)  At the gorge, it was everywhere!

FungusIn a couple of places I found colonies like this.  They look like mini puffballs.  I have no idea what they actually are.

Fungus Closeup

One of my favorite finds was a Tinder Polypore pair.  I had reported in a previous post that because the bracket fungi orient themselves according to gravity, you can sometimes find individuals that are positioned at right angles to one another.  One appeared when the tree was upright, the other after the tree fell.  Well, I found one!  And here it is:

Fomes Fomentarius

I’m just so fascinated at the wide variety of fungi you can find… IN WINTER!  Why did I never notice it before? 

Tomorrow, I’ll post some of the amazing ice pictures I took.  (And I only got a little damp taking them… )

P.S.  Have a safe and fun New Year’s Eve Celebration!

Colors of Winter

We haven’t had a lot of snow yet… We get a bunch, then it melts, then a dusting, then it melts…  That’s OK…  Lets me enjoy the incredible colors of winter before the snow comes and buries them…

Some bold…

Colorful Fungus on Log

Bright Orange Bracket Fungus

Some even bolder…

Orange Fungi on Elm

Orange Fungi on Elm Closeup

Some more subtle…

Yellow-Orange Bracket Fungus on Branch

Bracket Fungus - Closeup

And to think… all this color because one organism dies to give life to another…

Daedelus

Daedelus was an Athenian architect who built a labyrinth for King Minos to imprison the offspring of his wife and a white bull – the Minotaur (half human, half bull).  It’s a complicated story.  You can read it here.  I mention Daedelus for the sake of two fungus species that are named in his honor – two whose undersides are labyrinthal.  (And as long as we’re talking about religion, imagine my surprise when I googled “labyrinthal” to see (a) if it is a real word and (b) if so, how to spell it… and I found an ad for a religion!  I don’t know how often the ads change on the Free Dictionary… the ad I’m talking about is gone now.  But when I put this link here, one of the ads for the word labyrinthal was the UUA.  Go UUs!  They seem to be advertising everywhere these days!  Did you see them in Time Magazine?)  OK… Back to Fungi:

Daedalia confragosaDisclaimer:  I’m no mycologist.  I’m basing my identification on a couple of line drawings and word descriptions in Donald Stokes’ A Guide to Nature in Winter.  So please!!!  If you see I’ve misidentified something here, tell me!  But I think I have the two common species of Daedalia mentioned in his book.  See if you agree.

Daedalia confragosa undersideDaedalia confragosa is “fairly thin, corky, and speckled brown on top.”  The underside is “partly gilled and partly mazelike, or all mazelike” with partitions that are “as thin as paper, presenting a delicate and intricate pattern.”  I found mine on a fallen tree.  You might think that would have made the underside easy to photograph… but no!  The tree fell right over a puddle, which on this particular day was not completely frozen.  I had to stand in water over my ankles to get the picture you see here.  Oh the sacrifices I make for you, my reader…  hahahaha

Daedalia quercinaI’m guessing this one is Daedalia quercina.  Stokes reports that this variety is “heavier-set” and that when young, it is stark white turning brown or black with age.  The partitions underneath are thicker than paper and the pattern is “less intricate and more simple and bold.”

Daedalia quercina underside

I also found this information from Stokes’ guide interesting:  Bracket fungi are sometimes divided into to two groups depending on which parts of the wood they “digest”.  D. confragosa is in the group that produces “White Rot” by dissolving mainly the lignin from the cell walls.  This leaves the wood white, spongy, and fibrous.  D. quercina produces “Brown Rot,” also known as “Dry Rot,” by dissolving only the cellulose, leaving the wood brown and crumbly, often breaking into small cubes.

I know what you’re thinking:  you’ve seen trees in both states of decomposition, haven’t you?  Now you know why!

And hey, by the way… if you were going to advertise in the Free Dictionary, next to what word would you want your ad to appear?

Kingdom of the ‘Shroom

Bracket Fungi ColonyWhen I took Biology in the 1970s, there were only two kingdoms:  Plants and Animals.  When my daughters took biology only a few years back, there were five.  My nephew’s biology class was more recent and he claims there are six.  Tune in tomorrow:  there may be more!

Back in the Plant/Animal days, fungi were a conundrum. In some ways they act like plants.  Spores are similar to seeds, carrying the DNA that will produce new organisms, sending out root-like hyphae that eventually sprout a fruiting body that produces more spores.  Very plantlike, yet they lack chlorophyll.  They cannot make their own food, rather they rely on organic material – living and/or dead – to provide energy and nutrients – rather like an animal that eats other organisms for the same reason.  I guess that conundrum is why Fungi is now a kingdom of its own.

Bright Orange Bracket FungusRegardless of what box you put it in, fungi plays an important role in our world.  Without it, organic matter in the forest would pile up endlessly.  Fungi produce enzymes that digest organic material releasing the stored up nutrients, recycling the dead back to soil.  Trees die, but are teaming with life until the nutrients are released.  From the new soil life springs forth and the cycle begins again.

When you walk the woods in winter, you can see many species of fungi – mostly bracket fungi attached to branches and trunks.  Unlike the mushrooms that sprout on the forest floor in summer and fall whose delicate tissues last only a day or two, bracket fungi tend to have tougher surfaces that last long and can withstand the cold.  Some are perennial and put on growth rings like their tree hosts.  I spent a couple of hours in the woods behind Bergman Park on a wintery day in late December and was astounded by the number of species I found.  Most of them I could not identify… I haven’t delved into mycology.  Yet.  However… the more I read, the more interested I become.

Camouflaged FungusI almost walked right past a Tinder Polypore, so camouflaged against birch bark it was.  There were a couple of yellow birch neighbors, both sporting several hoof-shaped fungi.   The underside of these hard, woody structures are chocolate brown and covered with small pores from which spores are released.

Fomes fomentarius Underside

Tinder Polypore (Fomes fomentarius) deserves a whole website of its own.  Luckily, someone else has already written it!  Check out some of the information on Tom Volk’s site… including use of this fungus for tinder (by The Iceman!), crafts, and a variety of medicinal purposes.  Fascinating.

Some Bracket Fungi have gills underneathThe undersides of the bracket fungi are quite interesting.  (So were the postures I had to assume while photographing them, since I opted not to remove them from the trunks, branches and logs on which I found them.)  Many, like the Tinder Polypore, have tiny pores.  Others are smooth.  Some have gills or teeth.

Polyporus tulipiferae 1Polyporus tulipiferae is a pretty, creamy-white fungus with bristle-like teeth below.  By the way, most of the fungi have no common names.  Also by the way, there is another Latin name for this one: Irpex lacteus.  Some websites say “Polyporus tulipferae (formerly Irpex lacteus)” while others say “Irpex lacteus (formerly Polyporus tulipferae)”.  I don’t know the current accepted name.  Either way, you’ll notice in my photo that the “teeth” are pointing toward the left side of the frame.  Normally, the “underside” of bracket fungus are parallel with the ground.  I found this colony on a trunk that had fallen recently.  Since bracket fungi orient themselves according to gravitational pull, I’m looking forward to going back to this log to observe a reorientation of the fruiting bodies.  I suspect, these, having soft bodies, will disappear and new “fruits” will appear that are oriented toward the ground.  (If you go to Tom Volk’s website (referenced above), you’ll see a photo of two Tinder Polypores, side-by-side, at right angles to each other.)

Bracket Fungi on Log

I got Bernd Heinrich’s The Trees in my Forest for Christmas.  In a chapter called “Of Birds, Trees, and Fungi” he notes his observation that on any individual tree, he never sees more than one type of fungus.  I found two individuals that seemed to contradict his observation… But then, maybe the fungus changes over time to look different…  So much to learn…

OK… this post is getting altogether too long.  I can’t believe you are still reading it.  I have more ‘shrooms to tell you about…  But I’ll save them for another day!  Besides, there’s good light out there right now.  I think I’ll grab my camera and head for the woods.  You should, too!

Fungi

fungus 1We had some rain, then some warm days.  As a result, the fungi is just a poppin’ in our woods!  Dave and Anita came by and I convinced them to let me tag along for a photo shoot.  I needed to spy on Dave to see how he gets such amazing shots.  I always learn a lot when I go out on a walk with Dave.  I even learned what I want for Christmas.

fungus 8Mushrooms and other types of fungus have always been very difficult for me to photograph.  The pictures just don’t come out very well.  You are under the canopy of the trees and there just isn’t enough light.  If I up the ISO, the pictures come out grainy.  If I use the flash, the exposure just isn’t right.  It’s so frustrating that I sometimes don’t even try for a shot, even though I think it could be interesting.  Today, Dave gave me the courage to try, and while I threw out a lot of shots, I managed a few “keepers”.  They’re still not as good as his… but I’ll get there!  With practice!

Fungus 2We had a speaker at Audubon last Friday whose passion is mushrooms. Oh my, he presented a LOT of information on this group of organisms.  I’m afraid my mind was drifting a bit to work-related issues, so I can’t say I learned all of what he presented.  There were a couple of tidbits, though, that stick with me.

Maybe I sort of already knew this… but when he presented it, it made a lot of sense.  There are basically three ways fungi can “make a living.”  Some live off of dead stuff.  Some live off of living stuff.  Some form a symbiotic relationship with one or more other organisms.  Can I think of examples of each type.  No.  It’s late at night and my mind is on overload.

fungus 3The other tidbit is sort of funny.  There are so many species of fungi that no one dares put an actual number to it.  The ones that have names mostly have only latin names.  There aren’t really any universally accepted common names.  So when the author of the Audubon field guide to mushrooms and other fungi wrote his book, he just made stuff up.  I wonder if his names will become the accepted names?

It could be fun to make up the names.  Here’s an idea for your next blog post:  Take a picture of something you don’t know the name of, and make up something.  Why not?  Or heck… I don’t know the names of anything posted here.  You could make up names for these!

fungus 5Getting back to the photography angle…  I learned that what I want for Christmas (or my birthday – since that is closer) is a remote shutter release to reduce camera shake and a tripod.  I think I could get sharper pictures of stuff on the shady forest floor if I could leave the shutter open longer… and I can only do that if I find a way to stabilize the camera more reliably than my hands can hold it!

fungus 7

fungus 6fungus 4

There were many more kinds of fungus in the woods today than I have pictured here.  It always astounds me when I see the diversity of life in this beautiful world!