Mar 27, 2013

There's a Fungus Amongus!

In the natural kingdoms of the world, the non-flowering types are the Rodney Dangerfields. They don't get much respect. We're talking molds, fungi, mushrooms, that sort of stuff. But they don't deserve the "dis" they get. They decompose stuff, make nutrients available, draw or retain moisture, and on and on.Without them, as Dupont would say, life itself would be impossible. In the last couple of weeks, our attitudes toward these un-green things have been altered. We might still go "Eww," but at least it's an educated "Ewww."

With encouragement from the Outdoor Hour Challenge, this month we have spent a number of our daily walks looking for members of this kingdom. 

We realized our woods are rife with the evidence of decay. As I said in my last OHC post, We Like Lichens, these woods have suffered a lot of attacks by nature the last few years, being in a straight line with prevailing westerly winds. The historic D.C. derecho storm of 2011 brought down many trees along with Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. So, sadly, finding trunks and branches covered in bracket fungi wasn't all that surprising anymore. 

Anna Botsford Comstock in The Handbook of Nature Study puts it:
"...those of us who have come to feel the grandeur of tree life can but look with sorrow on these fungus outgrowths, for they mean that the doom of the tree is sealed."

On our hunts, the bracket fungus was the most abundant as it was not dependent on warmer conditions like mushrooms would have been. It's really just there year-round, so we were able to spot many examples during this unrelenting winter. It was interesting to learn that, unlike your basic toadstool-type mushroom with its "gills" under the cap for spore production, that the brackets release their spores through tubes found on the underside.

Various bracket fungi. Oh, and BLUE SKY for a change!

Below you can see a bracket that I harvested. Starting at the top left you can see the firm top side of the bracket, next the soft spore-producing underside, then (bottom left) a close-up of the tubes from which the spores are released. The last picture shows what you can DO with these fun-guys!
Outdoor Hour Challenge Fungi and Mushrooms
The undersides of these are now hard and brown from the cold and dry winter. It was surprising to find a fungus for drawing on in January 2007.

We have an annual tradition at our vacation cottage of finding a bracket fungus specimen and creating a scrapbook of sorts by etching little glyphs and captions into them as keepsakes of the season. Some years the woods are bursting with them, other years we can go all summer before finding even one. We have a basketful. I used to display them on a windowsill until I noticed black "dust" spilling out of their undersides. I wrongly concluded it was the result of little drilling bugs. Now, thanks to our study, I know it was the spores being released. I find spores less disturbing than little bugs. That's just me. 

If you want to make one, our advice is to look after heavy rains. They are fresh and moist then. Carefully, without touching the soft white side, break one off from the trunk.( The big ones can be very stubborn. ) Carry a basket or sack to help you tote it out unharmed, or you will be hiking with a fungus in your hand until you get home. 

Don't wait, but get right to work while the fungus is still fresh. Using any sharp instrument--pen cap, golf tee---draw and write on the soft white side. Plan your design because you can't erase! :-) Again avoid holding that side because your fingertips will also be preserved! 

When finished, stand it somewhere and it will dry and harden within a short time--a day or two usually. Then it is almost indestructible. The buyers of another old cottage nearby found a treasure trove of "artist's fungi" from the previous owners that were headed to the dump. They rescued them and found some to be dated from fifty years ago!

So who needs Creative Memories?  Have FUN-gus!

Got Fungus? Got Questions? Tell Mother All About It!
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  1. Thank you for sharing your fungus stories and study. :)

    I always am inspired!

  2. I love the fungus scrapbook! What a unique family memory. Great pictures of the bracket fungus, too.


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