Friday, November 5, 2010

Fungus, Part 2

Ready for your second (and last) fungus lesson?

For whatever reason this post went much better than the last, where I easily spent four hours trying to positively ID every image. Perhaps these were more distinct, or maybe I am getting better at it. Whatever the case, I didn't have to spend much more time on this post than I do on most others.

On that note, let's get to it!

We'll start with a lichen, actually--Flavoparmelia caperata, or common greenshield. This is apparently one of the most common lichens out there. An interesting thing about lichens--they are extremely sensitive to pollution. According to Joe Walewski in his book Lichens of the North Woods, foresters and ecologists use lichens as indicators of the health of forests. The more diverse the lichen population, the healthier the environment. Common greenshield is one of the hardier varieties and is often the first lichen to return to a once polluted environment.

Here is a "young" Pellinus ignairius, a bracket fungus whose top loses its color as it ages and becomes charred-looking. This one is still very colorful.

This one was easy--a birch polypore, or Piptporus betulinus. Often, identifying the substrate upon which the fungus is growing is the most important information after a description the fungus itself.

Now this one was frustrating. I looked through the book three times and could not come up with a name for this one. It is a gill fungus (note the underside), perhaps two to three inches across, with a distinctive knobby stalk, growing off a yellow birch. I thought maybe Pluteus articapillus, or deer mushroom, but the book says it has a smooth stalk. Hmmm....

These tiny little guys are in the Mycena family, perhaps viscosa. The Mycena genus has hundreds of species, but this seemed to match what was in the book. They were growing out of the ground in a mixed part of the forest--you can see white cedar as well as maple leaves.

This one was easy, looked exactly like the guide photo, right down to the paper birch log it was growing on--Tramete pubescens. I was curious about the meaning of the name so I found this online: Trametes means "one who is thin"; pubescens means "with hairs of puberty, downy." I will have to look at one of these a bit closer next time to see if I can find the hairs.

Below is a nice bunch of honey mushrooms, Armillaria mellea. I have another image of a few of these whose crowns are not cracked like this. I assume then that these are older. Note the one at the bottom right of the frame, where you can see the underside and stalk--very important in identifying fungus, I came to realize.

Towards the end of the hike (yes, these have gone in the order I found them along the trail) was this little oddity. It looks like a Pileated woodpecker had been working over this red pine, only a few feet off the ground. In the wound was now growing the jelly fungus Dacrymyces palmatus, or "fairy butter". Can you get a better name than that? I can see little wood nymphs coming out at night with their little knives and spreading this on little slices of bread.

And lastly, the tooth fungus Hericium americanum. While not as impressive as some of the images I found of it, this was growing exactly where it was supposed to be, on the side of a hardwood log.


For anyone who may be interested in doing a little field work of their own, here are a few tips, gleaned from my own troubles in identifying these fungi (and this can apply to nearly everything):

1) Have a bit of working knowledge before you hit the trail so you know what to look for. Knowing what the differences are between each group, and therefore knowing what you should be looking for, is mighty helpful. Before I started to do this blog I wouldn't have known a bolete if you'd conked me on the head with one!

2) Carry with you a small ruler and/or a coin such as a quarter to use as reference with each subject. This makes size easily discernible when you go back to look at your images.

3) Don't just look at the top of the mushroom--peek underneath, look at the stem and the underside of the specimen and describe what you see. Make some notes if you can't get a good picture.

4) Pay very close attention to where it is growing! Is it on a log or stump? What kind of tree is it growing on? Some fungus prefer hardwoods, other conifers. Is it growing directly out of the ground? Look up--what kinds of trees is it growing underneath? Are you in a coniferous forest, hardwood forest or open grassland or pasture? All of these things will help a great deal to narrow the list.

5) Lastly, do not assume that the specimen in your guide is going to look exactly like your picture or the specimen right in front of you. While you can walk in a woods anytime from May through September and the maple tree before you will look pretty much the same, mushrooms are very short lived and can change dramatically in a short period of time. If the image in your book was taken early in a mushroom's life, and yours towards the end, your specimen may look totally different.

Like warblers in autumn, fungus can be tricky to ID. Give yourself as much information to go on and you'll increase your chances of getting a positive identification. Trust me, I learned the hard way!

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