Nature News from GYE #52

Colors are changing, daylight is slowly dwindling and elk are bugling as we move into September. Another summer is waning here. Last week was a Road Scholar program and we did see so many crazy bulls in the height of challenging each other and herding their harems with long and loud “bugling”.

Bugling Bull Elk with cows by Kathy Lichtendahl

A surprise for us this summer has been the amount of moisture that has come in occasional showers. Vegetation has been green late into the summer and it has been a terrific wildflower year. Another bonus with all this moisture has been the number of mushrooms popping up all over the forest floor.

Aminita sp

Mushrooms seem to have an air of magic or mystery about them. The fruiting body (cap or fleshy part we see on the surface) is only one part of the entire organism, a reproductive part, similar to a flower or a cone of more familiar plants. The rest of the organism is underground. Slender masses of filaments (mycelium, made up of hyphae) penetrate the substrate where they are growing. This can be soil, wood, leaf and needle litter and dung. As nutrients are absorbed, the fruiting bodies develop and spring up. The hyphae are responsible for developing “spores” . Spores are distributed when these familiar mushroom bodies are seen on the surface. Sometimes the hyphae expand in “fairy rings” and these mushrooms will grow in mysterious patterns.

A typical life cycle of a Mushroom
Growing in a row

Mushrooms are fungi. Hence they don’t produce their own food. They absorb nutrients from the surroundings, as mentioned previously. In a sense, they are the housekeepers of the forest as they recycle dead organic material. They also play a very important role for all the other vegetation in the forest. Fungi absorb minerals and other nutrients. They come in contact with and frequently form a network with root systems for other vegetation. They aid in the survival of trees and other plants in poor or disturbed soil. In return, the plants help provide these fungi with nutrients. Some of these fungi are generalist, and some grow on or near one species of tree.
So much information about fungi, spores and the mushrooms we see on the ground is available , but for now, this is a good start. Peterson Field guides have a very good edition about Mushrooms by Kent and Vera McKnight if you’d like to learn more.

Not all Puffballs are edible

Literally hundreds of species ( that are documented )of mushrooms exist. White Button Mushrooms are the every day variety we see in the market. Along with those, the Portobello are found in Markets. These can be huge in size. Chanterelles and Morels are some of the variety that the “mushroom hunters” look for.
While I’ve been out in the woods, I’ve commonly seen Hedgehog mushrooms, Puffballs and Boleta mushrooms.
Some of these varieties are edible, but the safest and most sensible rule is NOT to pick and eat any of these unless you are 110% certain what the variety is you are picking. It is recommended that you confer with a mycologist before eating any wild mushrooms. Many experts still do a “spore print” to be sure of the species. This is a time consuming process, but not complicated.
Put a drop of water on the top of the cap to help release the spores. Cover the cap with a paper cup or glass and leave for 2-24 hours, depending on the humidity and the freshness of the mushroom. The spores will fall on the paper, foil or glass, making a spore print pattern. For details, check this link: out…

Gills of a Mushroom and it’s Spore Print

Another book available is called “Fascinated by Fungi”
Pat O’Reilly
if you are interested in learning more about these really neat organisms.

The word Toadstool brings up some fun images.
The term ‘toadstool’ is often used to refer to a mushroom or to fungi that are poisonous, while “mushroom” is more often used to define fungi that are edible.

It’s difficult to look at any one mushroom and try to identify with color or sometimes even a general shape ( one needs to look at details). Along with a spore print you will need to see if it has a “veil”, texture, what the gills look like, the appearance of the stalk, and where they are growing. Sometimes even the odor is important.

The mushroom to your left could be in the Russula genus. They are typically bright colored, have attached gills, and no veil on the stem. It was in the field, and I did not collect to find a spore print that would typically be white to bright yellow.

photographer unknown!

Some of the forest dwellers will depend on mushrooms for food. We’ll see tree squirrels and Ruffed Grouse stash these in trees for a winter cache.

Rabbits, Deer, many Rodents and even Bears love to eat mushrooms of their choice.

Sending you all good wishes. Spend time outside when you can and notice the small things.
My best, Leslie

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