Monday, October 25, 2021

Autumn, Underfoot

What a disappointment our autumn foliage in Saratoga County has been this year!  Due to a huge infestation of leaf-devouring Gypsy Moth larvae this summer, accompanied by unrelenting rains and wilting heat waves, many of the tree leaves have suffered both insect damage and fungal disease.  So instead of going out in their customary blaze of glory, most of our leaves are brown and shriveled and spotty, and many have already fallen, even though we haven't yet had a killing frost.  Even our sumacs have failed us.  Especially the species called Shining Sumac, which I used to depend on for truly eye-popping scarlet brilliance along the powerline that runs just north of Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park.  When I stopped there this past week, only a few shriveled leaves remained on the sumac twigs.  So instead of looking above my head for autumn beauty, I looked down instead,  finding what beauty lay underfoot along the deeply moss-cushioned clearcut under the powerlines.

At first glance, a search for splendor here among the brown grasses, baby pines, and thick yellowing carpets of Big Red Moss didn't look very promising.  But here and there, beautiful mounds of  spring-green Haircap Moss were studded with small silvery-brown mushrooms.

And how unexpected, to find patches of multi-colored Sphagnum Moss, here in this sun-baked, dry, sandy-soiled clearcut. I usually think of Sphagnum as populating very wet soils. But this one sure seemed happy here. I love its beautiful mix of green and gold and scarlet , so similar to what our forested mountainsides have looked like in other autumns, only in miniature and underfoot.

Here's an even deeper-scarlet patch of Sphagnum, sharing its turf with some velvety green Broom Moss, some shaggy stems of Big Red Moss, and a couple of Tree Club Mosses, one of them bearing spikes of golden spores.

Here's a closer look at that deep-red Sphagnum, revealing the whitish tips that give this moss a frosted appearance.

Here's a different clubmoss, called Fan Clubmoss, looking like tiny White Cedar trees set in a starry meadow of Haircap Moss.

This pale-yellow mushroom glowed like a full moon against a dark background of Haircap Moss.

These teeny-tiny brown mushrooms were sharing a fallen log with some grassy-green Broom Moss.

And this mass of Turkey Tail fungus proved that if you can't find beautiful colors in the trees, come look for this colorful species of fungus, displaying shades of blue and green and gold and rust and ivory.

Finally! Here was a baby Red Maple displaying the scarlet brilliance its species is famous for, only in miniature.  And even these tender new leaves were marred with the signs of insect damage and fungal disease that has made our autumn foliage such a disappointment this year.  Let's hope next fall will be better!


threecollie said...

Your photos are calendar-worthy! We have seen much the same thing, although here and there in our county are roads where the trees are spectacular! I love visiting those places.

The Furry Gnome said...

Your close-up of the reddish frosted sphagnum is outstanding!

Woody Meristem said...

All the rain we've had has leached the red pigments from most of our leaves and the fungi growing on the leaves has wrecked what the rain didn't destroy.