Thursday, November 24, 2022

Turkey Tail Tales, Redux

Dear Readers, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, filled with many joys to be grateful for.  As it happens, I am so occupied with hosting and cooking duties right now that I have no new woodland adventures to share today.  But I happened to revisit this Thanksgiving post from a few years ago, and I found it just as pleasing to me today as it was the first time I posted it.  I hope you will find it so, as well.

I have been way too busy cooking and preparing to host many dear guests to create a new Happy Thanksgiving blog. But I hope all my readers have a wonderful day of feasting and family love, without too much friction among folks either happy or mad about our recent elections. (Lucky for me and my dear family, our extended members who might want to fight are as far apart geographically as along the political spectrum.) I was hoping to get outdoors today, but indoor duties took preference, so I'm taking a walk through my photo files instead.  Since turkey stars so prominently in Thanksgiving feasts,  how about we look at a few variations of that beautiful fungus called Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)? This is the ruffly fungus shown in the photo above, sharing its fallen log with the vivid orange mushroom called Mycena leailana.  I always thought this particular combination of fungi would make a beautiful centerpiece for the Thanksgiving table.

As the following sequence of photos shows, this is a very aptly named fungus, whether we call it by its common name or its scientific one.  With its fan-shaped fruiting bodies displaying bands of alternating colors, it does rather resemble the spread-out tail of a courting or challenging tom turkey. And as its specific name, versicolor, suggests, it comes in a wide variety of colors.

Probably the most common colors we find are varying shades of tan and brown, from the softest ecrus and ivories and cafe-au-laits to the deepest chocolates.

Then once in a while, we come upon a mass of Turkey Tails with bands of vivid blue and vibrant orange.

Here's one I found with bands of bright orange set off by a wash of avocado green, thanks to a green-algae coating.

Somehow, the green bands in this vividly colorful example do not look as if they were caused by algae, because that green tint is confined to its distinctly separate bands, rather than spreading across all bands. One gorgeous -- and quite unusual -- combination of colors!

Just recently, I stopped in amazement before this gorgeous mass of Turkey Tails with bands of school-bus yellow alternating with bands of blue. This was a combination I had never seen before.

Then luck would have it, I soon came across that schoolbus yellow again, only this time alternating with bands of dove gray.

All of these examples display the strikingly zonate bands of contrasting colors that are typical for this fungus, and a closer look would reveal that these zones are often different in texture as well as color, with fuzzy zones alternating with smoother ones.  This fuzzy or velvety texture of the cap, as well as the starkly contrasting color zones are among the features that distinguish this species of Trametes from other similar members of its genus.  Another distinguishing feature of Turkey Tail is that the fresh caps are thin and flexible, not rigid and hard.

The Turkey Tail  is one of the polypore fungi, meaning that its fertile surface consists of many pores instead of gills.  We have many other species of polypores, but in the case of Turkey Tail, these pores, while visible, are very tiny, presenting as many as 8 pores per millimeter.

This fungus grows on the deadwood of hardwoods and only rarely on conifer logs. And to the delight of woods walkers in every season, it can be found year-round.  I'm hoping that after my hostess duties ease  and my flagging energies revive  that I can get back out to the woods very soon. Perhaps I will come upon a beautiful arrangement like this:  vividly striped Turkey Tails sharing a mossy log with gray-green lichens.

Wishing all my readers a Thanksgiving Day filled with love and gratefulness.  I am so grateful for the friends and family members who fill all of my days with love and joy, and also for the many wonders our Mother Nature surrounds us with here on earth.  May those wonders inspire us all to work to preserve them for generations to come.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Snow! Briefly.

It snowed last night!  Not much, but enough to cover the grass in our backyard and crown the Three Garden Graces with a bonnet of fluffy white. Just a few days ago, we were still walking around in shirtsleeves, and I was grumbling about it being way too warm for this time of year.

This isn't the earliest snowfall we've experienced in Saratoga Springs.  Back in 1972, we had a heavy wet snowfall in mid-October.  The leaves were still on the trees, and the weight of that snow on the leafy branches brought many of those branches down, along with electric wires.  I remember very clearly that event 50 years ago, because I'd given birth to our youngest child just 4 days before.  I was shoveling our front walk when my obstetrician happened to drive by and screeched to a halt to yell at me to put that shovel down right now! Luckily, the anatomical disasters he warned me about have yet to occur, and probably won't, now that I'm 80. Whew!

Happily, I did not have to shovel our walk today.  The temperature promptly rose into the 40s, and some light rain fell before the sun came out by mid-afternoon. The freshly-washed berries on our Flowering Dogwood now look all bright and shiny.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Rotting Logs and Mudbound Rocks: Prime Habitats for Late-Fall Finds

Finally!  The temps were well below freezing this morning in Saratoga Springs. The days have been so freakishly warm of late, it just has not seemed right.  We did have one frosty morning last Wednesday, cold enough to find the frothy ice-curls forming around the freeze-split stems of Frostweed (Crocanthemum canadense) along a Moreau Lake State Park trail.  But unusually warm weather returned the very next day and continued until today.

In the meantime, I've really had to search for interesting places to botanize.  The wildflowers are gone, fall foliage has fallen, and this warm dry weather has certainly not inspired many fungi to sprout.  But we did have some rain on Friday night, so I thought I might find some fruiting fungi out at Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in nearby Wilton on Saturday. The creeks that run through this small woodsy preserve were certainly running full.

Rotting Logs
The forest surrounding the creeks hold many fallen logs, prime habitat for many colorful fungi and other organisms.  And  those logs were now well darkened by overnight rain, making whatever fungi are present much easier to spot. Certainly, it would be hard to miss the bright-yellow dots decorating this rotting trunk.

Here's a closer look at those yellow dots, the unmistakeable tiny disk-shaped fungus called Lemon Drops (Bisporella citrina), a very common sac fungus that can be found well into the winter on rotting wood.

While those bright-yellow disks were easy to spot, even from a distance, other fungi populating this log required a much closer look.  The dark color of the Purple Jelly Drops (Ascocoryne cylichnium) make them barely visible against the dark wood, while the tiny size of the white jelly dots (Helicogloea compressa) render them nearly invisible, despite their contrast with the dark background.

These purplish disks populating another downed log might well be the same species, Ascocoryne cyclichnium, as the purplish disks seen above, or they might be the very similar-looking A. sarcoides, these two related fungi looking so much alike they can only be distinguished with any certainty by microscopic examination of their spores.

This piece of rotting wood bore the tell-tale turquoise tinge that signals the presence of the Green Stain Fungus (Chlorociboria aeruginascens), whether or not the tiny fruiting bodies are present (which they very often are not). But as luck would have it, there were a few of the tiny ear-shaped fruit-bodies visible on this chunk of wood.

There were also a few of the tiny Green Stain Fungus fruit-bodies populating that Lemon-Drop-decorated log I examined above.  But they were so small I missed seeing them on first observation.

Aha! Here's some Turkey Tail at last (I thought), when I spotted these tan-and-brown-striped shelf fungi sprouting from a fallen birch log. But a look at the underside fertile surface had me quickly changing my assessment.   This fungus's obvious gills convinced me that this was NOT Turkey Tail, which has fine white pores on its fertile surface. No, this was rather the very similar-looking Birch Gilled Bracket (Trametes [formerly Lenzites] betulina). It sure does look similar to Turkey Tail, and in fact has only recently been placed in the same genus (Trametes) as that fungus.

Then lo and behold, I DID find some genuine Turkey Tail Fungus (Trametes versicolor) on a fallen log right nearby. This combination of chrome yellow and dove gray is only one of the many color combinations this beautiful fungus can display.  The underside fertile surface did display the tiny pores that are distinctive to this species.

The thin, leathery, bright-orange caps of this ruffly-edged fungus convinced me it was most likely one of the Stereum species, very prettily set off by a bright-green tuft of what I believe is Pincushion Moss (Leucobryum glaucum). Rotting wood is the expected host for this species of fungus.

Rotting logs are also the favored habitat for a number of our common liverworts, too.  Here I found two different liverworts sharing the same log. The reddish-brown one is called Rustwort (Nowellia curvifolia), and despite how unfocused my photo is, I can actually see the curved leaves its specific name would suggest.  The translucent green liverwort is called Variable-leaved Crestwort (Lophocolea heterophylla), so called because its leaves, which are bilobed at the bottom of the stem, become notched or completely smooth (no notches and not bilobed) further up the stem. I have read that this liverwort has a strong scent, although I have never sniffed it.  Next time I will!

Despite the vernacular name of Rustwort, the Nowellia liverwort is often a pale green color in warm weather, only becoming this rusty red late in the year. This particular patch was studded with white tips, which are the female reproductive organs of this liverwort.

Mudbound Rocks

The Orra Phelps Nature Preserve features several low-lying swales that are constantly wetted by springs or adjacent creeks.  This time of year, with most other vegetation having died away, I can see how the swales are dotted with mudbound rocks, each rock carpeted with lovely green stuff, mostly mosses but also some liverworts. And all of these species are green all year, granting us the pleasure of finding them in every season.

It's interesting that most of these rocks are covered with a single species alone, aside from an occasional leafy interloper.  This particular rock plays host to one of our most common liverworts, called Snakeskin Liverwort (Conocephalum conicum). It is also sometimes called Great Scented Liverwort because it has a very pleasant smell when its leaves are crushed.

This rock is completely covered by a fluffy-looking lime-green liverwort called Handsome Woollywort (Trichocolea tomentella). Isn't that a great -- and wholly appropriate -- vernacular name for this very handsome and woolly-looking liverwort? I am not certain how common or not this liverwort may be, but I know that I find it very much less often than most other liverworts I'm familiar with.

I do find this next leafy liverwort -- Bazzania trilobata -- very frequently, and usually in dark shady woods and always close to water.  It reminds me of throngs of millipedes standing erect.

Rarely do the liverworts and mosses share a single rock, although they do occur side-by-side in this swale. The pretty moss has a pretty name to match: Delicate Fern Moss (Thuidium delicatulum).

This moss repeats the fern-like shape of the moss mentioned above, but it appears sturdier, less delicate. It's called Brocade (or Feather) Moss (Hypnum imponens), and its reddish stems are one of its distinguishing features. Again, it crowds the rock it was growing on so densely, no other species of any plant could intrude.

This leafy, green, translucent moss displays both erect, flower-shaped forms (each one protruding a reddish spore stalk) and also trailing vine-like stems.  I will not venture a guess as to its species, other than suggesting it might be one of the Mniums, but I can certainly praise it for its delicate beauty. Again, it dominated the rock it was growing on, leaving no room for intruders.

Well, this patch of Wavy Starburst Moss (Atrichum sp.) has admitted an intruder into the middle of its mound.  Or is it that this emerging Skunk Cabbage shoot has allowed the moss to surround its spot in the muddy swale? Skunk Cabbage will send up these shoots in the fall, the outer coverings of which will fall away early in spring as the spathes emerge, sometimes while still surrounded by snow.  I had learned the name of this moss some years ago as A. undulatum, but I'm wondering if its specific name has changed recently.  It certainly does have undulating leaves!

At least I can be confident that it is a species of Atrichum.  Here's how I made sure: I plucked one plant and held it in my hand for a few minutes. Sure enough, deprived of moisture, it promptly shriveled.  Note the freshly picked one here in my hand, compared to the one I picked moments before.  Even if left intact on its site, this moss will shrivel under very dry or very cold conditions.

Just one of the many fun discoveries amid the mudbound rocks in this Orra Phelps swale.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Frustrating Fungus Forays

Hey!  It's fall!  This is supposed to be the height of mushroom season.  But where are they, our fungal friends? I've explored many of my usual haunts these past weeks and found almost nothing.  Maybe a few shriveled remnants here or there, but not the glorious profusion of mushrooms in astounding varieties of shapes and colors I usually find each fall.  Just too hot and dry, I guess.  But driven by hopes, my friends Sue and Ruth joined me last week to head 40 miles north to the Pack Demonstration Forest in Warren County, recalling the abundance of fungi we've found there in past years.  But nope, not this year.  Ah well, at least we enjoyed some other fascinating finds.  Here's just a sampling.

Never in my life have I seen a Tamarack tree so huge.  But here this one was, towering over all other trees right near the parking lot and turning the lovely golden color it grows just before its needles drop. American Larch is another name for the Tamarack (Larix laricina), our only conifer that loses its needles every fall. I suppose I should not have been surprised to find such a giant tree at this site, since the Pack Demonstration Forest is home to some of the largest old-growth trees in New York. Notably, White Pines, though, not Tamaracks.

Instead of following the Nature Trail into the old-growth White Pine forest as we usually do, we took a  road that led us to the Pack Forest Lake.  Alerted by the haunting call of a Common Loon,  we stood on the shore watching the lake, and we soon caught sight of a solitary loon, still in juvenile plumage, swimming across the still water, occasionally diving out of view.  A quintessential Adirondack experience! This young loon's parents probably left to winter on the Atlantic already, and the juveniles will soon follow, hopefully before the lake freezes over. A loon cannot take flight unless it has a long stretch of open water to take off from.

Deprived of fungal finds, we nevertheless enjoyed searching the forested roadside for whatever there was to see, grateful to have our friend Ruth's ever-more-expert knowledge of mosses available to inform us about what we found. But in many ways, with these two pals along, I always have great fun in the woods, no matter how scarce the woodsy attractions.

One of those mossy finds (among many!) was this big patch of Stair-step Moss (Hylocomium splendens), sharing its space with occasional Partridgeberry plants and their accompanying red berries. This moss acquired its interesting vernacular name by growing one new tier of lime-green frilly leaves each year.

This fluffy green stuff curling away from the trunk of a tree is a moss called Neckera, which tends to favor old-growth trees like those that abound in Pack Forest.

Without a closer look, we might have confused this Porella liverwort with that Neckera, since both the liverwort and the moss have green branches that curl up and away from the trunk of a tree.  They often share the same trunk, in fact.

A huge patch of Scouring Rush (Equisetum hyemale) filled a damp roadside ditch with its strictly erect jointed and leafless stalks, each stalk crowned with an elaborate strobilus (spore-bearing cone) as ornate as any Ukrainian Easter egg. Sharing the same ditch and intermingling with the Scouring Rush was a much more slender Equisetum species that I at first assumed was an immature version of the Scouring Rush. But I have since learned that this slender version is a species in its own right,  called Equisetum variegatum (Variegated Scouring Rush). 

I never noticed this variegated species until just this year, having found it in two locations, both times interspersed amid the much sturdier E. hyemale. The two species (both native) obviously share the same kind of habitat.  I noticed that a note on the NYFA Plant Atlas mentions that this species is only recently showing up in areas where it was not found before. Interesting!

We also found several species of clubmosses populating the roadsides, including this bright-green upright spiky species called Shining Clubmoss (Huperzia lucidula).  This species can be readily distinguished from the similar-looking Stiff Clubmoss by the fact that it bears its spores at the base of its leaves instead of in long slender spore stalks (called strobili) that extend from the tops of the plants.  The Shining Clubmoss's yellow spore packets were very evident this day.

And here is a prize worth spending the gas-money to get to: the teeny-tiny evergreen basal rosette of our native orchid called Dwarf Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera repens).  None of us has ever found this very small flower at any other location but here in the Pack Demonstration Forest: one of our smallest wildflowers amid some of the tallest trees in the Adirondacks.

A true highlight of our walk at Pack Forest had less to do with the plants we found, although it did have to do with fellow nature lovers:  a chance meeting on the trail with a couple of folks named John and Louise.  As we encountered one another and stopped to happily chat and compare trailside experiences, John suddenly recognized me as the author of this blog, and burst forth with so many enthusiastic comments about it I could hardly believe my ears.  John, I want you to know how much your words have meant to me!  Sometimes I feel I have said all I have to say about our regional woods and waters, and I think about putting this (nearly 14-year-old!) baby to bed.  Of course, I then have an experience I can't wait to share with my fellow nature enthusiasts, and so I continue posting, although perhaps a bit less often than before. But even more encouraging to me is knowing there are readers still out there who not only follow my blog, but who also head into the woods or out on the waterways, inspired (so they tell me) by what I share here.  And then go on to inspire others to care for our natural world.  Lord knows, our poor suffering planet needs all the defenders it can get.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Moreau Lake, Mid-Afternoon, Late Autumn

I was surprised to find Moreau Lake so quiet this afternoon. Such a beautiful day it was, almost summer warm, and the lake lay nearly mirror-still under a mostly blue sky. One older couple with their pair of very fluffy Keeshonds were basking in the sun near the swimming beach, but the crowds of summer swimmers and picnickers were replaced today with this crowded collection of picnic tables, gathered together (I supposed) to be placed in winter storage.

The sun appeared low in the sky for only 2:30 in the afternoon, already casting a golden light that warmed the landscape's colors at the same time it lengthened the shadows.  And we still have a few days left of daylight savings time! Next week those shadows will be even longer at only 2:30 in the afternoon.

Aware that the gate that gave my auto access to this part of the park would be locked in only one hour,  I hurried across the bridge to enjoy a brief walk along the north shore of the lake.   I did pause on the bridge, though, to admire these beautiful reflections on the water of the back bay.

From the pine-lined trail that divides the main lake from the back bay, I could enjoy glimpses of sky-blue water on both sides.

Although the trees' brilliant autumn foliage had mostly faded, there was still much beautiful color to be found on the forest floor. The vibrant red of these blueberry leaves were shown off to great advantage by the silvery gray bark of the Cottonwood that rose behind them.

The leaves of this small oak sapling had achieved their maximum intensity of red.

Patches of Partridgeberry showed off their vivid Christmas colors of red and green. Amazingly, they will continue to do so all through the winter and into next spring as well.

Pipsissewa leaves are also evergreen, and they looked as freshly glossy today as they'd been when their flowers bloomed last July.

These small aster flowers had obviously faded, but their fluffy seed heads had a charm of their own.

The most gorgeously colorful display today was a thick hedge of Black Huckleberry shrubs that lined the north shore of the lake.

Here's a closer look at those blazing-red Black Huckleberry leaves.

Time to go! As I hurried back toward where I had parked my car, I lingered a moment to let the serene beauty of this scene fill me with quiet joy.