Wee Folk Wednesday

Faeries, come, take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame!

~William Butler Yeats, “The Land of Heart’s Desire,” 1894

In my last post I wrote that I regretted that I hadn’t continued my fairy photo project, so I headed to the woods today to remedy that.

The pumpkin fairy and the gnome are old friends, so when she found him napping with his sheep on a bed of moss, she stopped by for a visit. “What,” you say, “gnomes have sheep?!” Why yes, they certainly do. At least in my enchanted forest.

The violet fairy made her first visit to the woods today too. She rescued one of the errant sheep from this mossy mountain, and soon returned him to the gnome’s herd. I would assume he’ll be grateful…when he wakes from that long nap. (It’s strange that every time I come across that guy, he’s sleeping.)

Speaking of sheep that need rescuing…these two somehow got stuck on fungus mountain. Since the fairies were busy and the gnome was, well, you know…I helped them down.

It may seem silly for a grown woman to be playing with fairies in the woods, but this little project helps take me out of my head when it’s too “grown-up” in there. And it sure does entertain passersby in the woods (“What is that crazy lady doing with those sheep?”).

I hope this brought a smile to your face today. Happy Wee Folk Wednesday!

And the Trees Hugged Me Back

I went for a walk in the woods in the late morning last Wednesday. I knew it would be a long and stressful day as we endured planned protests to the certification of the electoral votes for our new president, and I was trying to do some self-care to keep my stress level in check. Every new day seems to push me to what feels like a new limit to my endurance, and I worry about the long-term health consequences of constant high levels of cortisol and adrenaline in my body. I really miss being able to go to the gym.

On this walk, I stopped often to look skyward and enjoy the feeling of being comforted by the trees “hugging” me. Maybe they’re repaying me for all the times I’ve hugged them?

I’ve been off my photography game lately, but on this day I decided to snap some cell phone photos of mosses and lichens. At this time of year they’re a welcome pop of color in the mostly-brown-and-gray woods. I don’t know much about these organisms and can’t identify most of them, but I love looking for them.

On this walk I found lots of large trees with moss socks going up several feet from the ground. I often stopped to pet them and enjoy the tactile aspect along with the verdant feast for the eyes.

This tree is wearing a moss sock
A wood fern, another nice green surprise in the winter woods. (Maybe dryopteris genus.)

As I drove home from my walk, I turned on the radio and heard the news of the domestic terrorists invading the US Capitol. I finished my drive in a state of shock, anxious to get home and see what was on the tv news. I remembered that I had ended my last gratitude post with a statement that now seemed like a dare: “Show us what you’ve got, 2021. We’re ready.” I have to take that back now…we were not ready. At. All.

I think this is the first time I’ve photographed this particular lichen. It appears to be one of the rosette lichens in the genus Physcia. It occurs to me that this might be the reason I’ve been craving mint chocolate chip ice cream…you see it too, right?

And here we have a lichen sitting on a soft bed of moss. The moss is a plant, but the lichen is not. Lichens are a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and an alga, allowing the fungus to benefit from the photosynthesis ability of the alga, and thus retain a constant source of nourishment. (At least this is how I understand it at a very basic level.) Luckily for me, it’s not necessary to understand the science in order to enjoy them.

I need to get back on board with my fairy photo project soon. I used to carry little fairies and gnomes with me so I could pose them on big mushrooms or tucked into beds of lush moss. That project gave me a lot of pleasure, and it should be one more thing I continue to help keep my mind off of all the scary things that I have little or no control over. I hope you remember to take good care of yourselves too. I can highly recommend being hugged by trees.

Fun with Fungi (and mosses and lichens)

Turkey tail fungus reduced w sig

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.

Turkey tail in cone shape w sig

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.

Turkey tail fungus - close crop for texture

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.

Little mushrooms on a log reduced w sig

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.

My camera on tripod pointing down at lichens and fungi on dead tree (2)

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.

Deer watching me take fungi photos
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.

Lichen showing fruiting bodies (2)

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:

Lichen showing fruiting bodies - closer crop

I really like this lichen because it looks like lettuce leaves around the edges.

Lichen with pretty leafy ruffly texture w sig

Red velvet mite and moss on tree barkOh, 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.

Moss on a log w sig

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.

Moss with setae highlighted w sig

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!

Lichen moss and fungus together w sig

Little mushroom with tiny spider on edge w sigOh, 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
https://baynature.org/2013/11/28/can-tell-true-turkey-tail-imposter/

Lichen reproduction: http://www.lichens.lastdragon.org/faq/lichensexualfruitingbodies.html

and http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/fungi/lichens/lichenlh.html