After bemoaning the end of insect season in a recent post, I decided to stop whining and get out there to find something to photograph in the woods. And I’m happy to say that I was amply rewarded for my determination.
I love trees for many reasons. In warmer months I take photos of their blossoms and fruits as well as the birds and insects who feed and breed in them. Then in the fall, of course, I take photos of their resplendent foliage. But there’s one thing I haven’t paid much attention to, and that’s the other organisms that grow on the trees. So that’s what I did on a recent walk in the woods at a favorite metropark in Toledo.
Yes, this is all about fungi and mosses and lichens–oh my! (Ever since I compared sandhill cranes to flying monkeys, I seem to have Wizard of Oz on the brain.)
Let’s start with the fungi, because they’re fun.
Turkey tail fungus is very common; in fact it might be the most common fungus on this continent. Its scientific name is Trametes versicolor, a reference to the many colors it exhibits. It usually appears in a variety of greens, browns, and whites. On this day I found one of the prettiest examples of this species that I’ve seen. As you can see above, this one had a lovely combination of lighter colors and patterns.
It seems I most often find the semi-circular types of these attached to the tree like little shelves, but this decaying tree had some completely circular ones (shown above), as well as a few funnel-shaped specimens that I’d never noticed before.
Another thing I’d never noticed before is that the concentric circles of color also vary in texture. I think you can see it in this close crop. It looks like the brown rings are smoothest, while the greens are rather fuzzy or rough.
I should mention the possibility that this is actually false turkey tail, or Stereum ostrea. The key to distinguishing the two species are the presence or absence of pores on the underside. I confess that even with a magnifying glass I couldn’t see pores on the underside of this one, but I’m not sure if I just need higher magnification. And to be honest, I don’t have to be sure of its name in order to admire its beauty, so I’m not too concerned with a positive identification. (I’ve put a couple references at the end of this post for those of you who want to read more.)
I also found these little mushrooms and spent some time crawling all around them to get the most pleasing photographic angle. I haven’t even attempted to identify these but I really like this photo.
Here’s a shot of my camera setup in the woods. I spent about 90 minutes in this area and only saw about 15 people on the nearby trail.
And although I was only about 15 yards off-trail, most of those people seemed to not even notice me. Although some other creatures were very aware of my presence. This was one of three deer who stood and stamped their feet when they saw me in their intended path.
Lichens are fascinating organisms, and I can only write a little bit about them here. (And as always, remember that I’m not a scientist but am trying my best to give accurate information.) But basically, they’re combinations of fungi and algae (or cyanobacteria). When I learned that, I wondered how they were classified. It seems that after much debate, lichens have been placed in the same taxonomic kingdom as fungi.
What I discovered as I looked closely at the lichens was those little cup-shaped discs scattered over the surface. Those are the fruiting bodies called apothecia, through which the fungal component of the lichen reproduces itself. I think they’re really cool. Oh, and because I have to mention insects again, apparently only a few insects can feed on lichens because of their complex chemistry. Here’s a closer crop of this lichen:
I really like this lichen because it looks like lettuce leaves around the edges.
Oh, speaking of almost-insects, look who I found trying to hide among the moss on a tree. This is a red velvet mite, an arachnid. He really stood out in the brown-grayness of the fall woodlands. I highly recommend that you jump over to this page at The Oatmeal to see a very funny comic about the sex life of the red velvet mite. I laughed out loud.
And now to finish up, let’s admire some pretty moss.
Oooh. Aaahhh. Pretty, right? Notice the structures resembling hairs that protrude above this moss; those are the setae. On top of each seta is a capsule in which the spores develop.
If you’re like me, you won’t be able to resist running your hand over those soft “hairs” a few times. They tickle.
I took this photo when I found moss, lichen, and fungus growing alongside each other on the same rotting tree. If I’d had more time I probably could have had fun crawling around that single decaying tree for a couple more hours. So much to see in every crevice!
Oh, and when I was reviewing my photos at home after this excursion, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I’d captured a teeny tiny spider on the edge of a small mushroom. He must have been playing peek-a-boo with me, because he only appears in one of the three shots I took of this particular fungal life form. I see you, little guy!
As promised, here are a few resources for further reading about some of today’s topics:
Turkey tail identification key: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/trametes_versicolor.html
Lichen reproduction: http://www.lichens.lastdragon.org/faq/lichensexualfruitingbodies.html