If you are out walking on a winter morning, you might be lucky enough to see some of nature’s most beautiful and ephemeral sights: hair ice and frost flowers, both snow-white and delicate against the dull forest floor. [Read more…] about Hair Ice and Frost Flowers
Deadwood: The Importance of Standing Dead Trees
Some of the most important trees in your woodlot are the ones that are no longer alive. Large, standing dead or dying trees — called snags — are an important component of healthy forests and a critical habitat feature for wildlife.
They provide places for many birds and mammals to forage, den, nest, perch, and roost. Snags are particularly important for cavity nesting birds like woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees; for bats that roost within cavities, crevices, and flaky bark; and for countless species that rely on the abundant insects, fungi, and lichens as a food source. [Read more…] about Deadwood: The Importance of Standing Dead Trees
Santa’s High Reindeer & Alice in Wonderland
If not for a fungus, Santa’s flying sleigh would be grounded. If that were the case, the only toys he could distribute would be to the elves who made them in the first place, which kind of spoils the whole surprise element.
The truth is that Mister Claus relies on Amanita muscaria, a mushroom which grows among pine and birch, to zip around the world on Christmas Eve. [Read more…] about Santa’s High Reindeer & Alice in Wonderland
Ash Tree Bolete: A Tangled Story of Ash, Aphid & Fungus
If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then surely the friend of my enemy is my enemy. This inverted cliche is one way to characterize the tangled relationship between ash trees and the ash-tree bolete.
The ash-tree bolete (Boletinellus merulioides) is a fan-shaped brown mushroom with an off-center stem. It grows in association with ash trees throughout eastern North America; however, that association is an odd one. [Read more…] about Ash Tree Bolete: A Tangled Story of Ash, Aphid & Fungus
The Secret Language of Mushrooms
Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland was chock-a-block full of whimsical characters such as a hookah-smoking caterpillar and a bloodthirsty Queen of Hearts playing-card. Although animals and some objects in the story are able to speak, somehow the idea of a talking mushroom was too far-out even for Carroll’s rich imagination.
The book depicts a colorful hallucinogenic Amanita muscaria mushroom on which Alice dines (without so much as a parental warning) to become large or small. But while the Cheshire cat is chatty, the mushroom remains mum. [Read more…] about The Secret Language of Mushrooms
Winter is far a far cry from being prime mushroom hunting season. Most fungi stop producing mushrooms, or fruiting bodies, in early autumn, and their hyphae (filamentous structures that are the main part of the fungal body) are out of sight, inside wood or in the ground. However, you can still find some specimens in winter. Spotting them is simply a matter of knowing where to look. [Read more…] about Winter Mushrooms
Moose, Winter Ticks and Fungi
Legend says a stake through the heart will kill a vampire. But it’s a bit more complicated if you’re plagued – as moose can be – by tens of thousands of tiny blood-suckers. In the case of moose, the vampires are winter ticks (Dermacentor albipictus), and finding a way to stake them has been tricky. However, recent research has found a potential – and microscopic – vampire hunter. [Read more…] about Moose, Winter Ticks and Fungi
Mycelium Brick & Fungal Homes: Much Room, No Mushrooms
For some reason, mushrooms have spawned more than their fair share of puns. As a kid I learned that they’re all fun-guys, and that the only rooms you can’t enter in a house are mushrooms. The last one might not work these days, as entire buildings are now being made of fungus.
Given that mold inside our homes can make us ill, you wouldn’t think that being surrounded by the stuff would be a great idea. But just like so many other things in life, “it depends.” As a building material, fungus is cheap, ubiquitous, and a renewable resource. But that’s not the best part. By dry weight, walls made of fungus are stronger than concrete and have better insulation value than polyurethane foam.
They are weather-proof, practically non-combustible, and oddly enough, resist getting moldy. [Read more…] about Mycelium Brick & Fungal Homes: Much Room, No Mushrooms
Lips and Walls: Digging into Tree Decay
When clients call about decay in large older trees, every so often it’s necessary to respond that I’m not interested in hearing any lip from them. I do this respectfully of course.
It’s a frequent misconception that the roll of callus tissue or “lip” that trees produce at the margins of a wound will cause, or at least accelerate, trunk rot by catching and holding a small amount of rainwater.
It makes perfect sense to us that if an open tree wound is allowed to stay wet for longer, it will decay faster. We all know that a stack of wood exposed to the elements will turn punky in a few years, whereas if it’s kept in a dry shed it can last indefinitely. [Read more…] about Lips and Walls: Digging into Tree Decay
Woodland Jumping Mice are Truffle Specialists
“Shhh,” I tell my 5-year-old son, “there are animals sleeping, right under our feet.” He presses his ear against the frozen ground, hoping to hear the slow, sleepy breath of a snoozing mammal.
I tell him that if he could pull back the earth like a blanket and peek in, he might see a small, mousey ball of white, black, and yellowy-orange fur curled tightly inside a nest of dried grasses and dead leaves.
A long, sparsely-furred tail would be coiled like a thin ribbon around this little package: a woodland jumping mouse, whose pre-hibernation diet consists largely of truffles. [Read more…] about Woodland Jumping Mice are Truffle Specialists