Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Mushroom Hunting at Moreau

In my post for last Saturday, I pictured a fungus -- Cordyceps capitata -- that turned out to be a rather rare species that only grows on underground truffles.  Intrigued by this information and wanting to see these remarkable fungi in situ, I set out on Sunday to see if I could find the spot where the fellows found them while clearing a new trail in Moreau Lake State Park.  Well, I walked that entire trail, both the old and the new parts, and could not for the life of me find them.  I sure had a nice walk though.  The trails through those Warren County woods are certainly lovely.

But I didn't give up.  Today (Tuesday) I called the park's manager, Peter Iskenderian, to ask him to show me on a trail map exactly where he had found those fungi, and he actually went me one better.  He offered to escort me to the very site in person.  So off we went together, on a radiantly lovely brisk autumn afternoon, striding along a trail that followed the Hudson, which was visible through the trees and sparkling in the sun.

Peter led me directly to the site, and there they were, a cluster of Cordyceps capitata, rather mangled by being raked by trail workers, but recognizable all the same, with their worm-like yellow stalks crowned with brownish bonnets.

I was particularly interested to find the truffle-like fungus, Elaphomyces, which grows underground and is a necessary concomitant for the presence of Cordyceps capitata.   When we dug out the soil beneath the visible Cordyceps, we not only found the truffles, we found other hidden Cordyceps, curled up underground.

Very fragile, the Cordyceps broke from the truffle at a touch, but here in my hand are the two fungi arranged as I found them before they broke apart.  That rough brown ball is not the root of the Cordyceps, but is instead the separate truffle-like fungus Elaphomyces.

I sliced one of the truffles open to reveal its black interior.  Unlike the extremely valuable edible truffles, this one had no discernible odor.  Nor should it ever be eaten.  I don't know if it is poisonous, but it is not considered to be edible.

These weren't the only interesting fungi I encountered along Moreau trails this past week.  Last Friday, my friend Sue and I found several more on a very pleasant walk around Moreau Lake, which, despite the gloomy weather, offered a serene and lovely reflection of a low gray sky.

A light misty rain had stopped before we set out along the shore, but the raindrops were still in evidence on the backs of fallen oak leaves.  I'm noticing now, as I look at this photo again, that the drops were beaded up like this only on the undersides of the leaves.  I must look very closely with my hand lens next time I pick up an oak leaf, to see how the textures differ from the upper and under sides of the the leaves.  (For the moment, though, I will just enjoy the beauty of this leaf.)

We always find Turkeytail fungus on our walks through Moreau woods, and I thought this arrangement of older and newer fungi, plus lichens, moss, bark and leaves, was particularly colorful.

Sue and I were mystified by this patch of white stuff spreading across the surface of an oak stump cut level with the ground.  It had covered not only the oak wood, but also a number of acorns resting there, as well as several other little white-capped gilled mushrooms that had sprouted from the same wood.

At first I thought it might be a slime mold, and it may yet be, but after taking a closer look at the ruffly structure of the growth, I thought it looked  more like a fungus than a slime mold.  I hope to get an answer soon from my mushroom-expert friends.

Update:  This IS a slime mold!  I found a photo of it in George Barron's Mushrooms of Northeast North America, which has a nice section on slime molds.  Its name is Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. porioides.

There was no wondering what THIS fungus was!  This is a Ravenel's Stinkhorn (Phallus ravenelii), with a shape that matches its Latin name, and a stink that attracted a bunch of red-eyed flies.

Copulating red-eyed flies, at that.


The Cranky Crone, she lives alone! said...

That had me really excited about the truffles! I thought the end pic would be you tucking into a fluffy omlette with a sprinkling of truffle, or making a fortune, that you would donate to the woods.
But hey, how much excitement can i take this time in the morning.
That stink horn, was decidedly rude, and those flies making the most of it, please put a warning for the faint hearted when posting such controversial and potentially exciting posts! :-)

Carolyn H said...

Very cool photos today of your fungi. I've never seen that truffle fungs before, and it's a really odd-looking cool one. I always want to learn more about fungus and just when I think I'm doing not bad at it, another 25 mysterious ones show up.

Anonymous said...

Cordyceps is an amazing fungus. It will pierce an ant's exoskeleton, and pump it full of antibiotics (to prevent it from dying at the hands of some other infectious agent). Then it turns insidious. It grows inside the ant and takes over its brain, causing it to climb a stalk of grass to just the right height. At that point, the ant grasps the stalk with its pincers and dies. Shortly after that, the Coryceps sprouts a fruiting body from the ant's head - at the ideal height for spreading its spores.

Ellen Rathbone said...

Great finds!