Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rough Speckled Shield Lichen

Rough Speckled Shield Lichen - Punctelia rudecta
My family and I took a camping trip to Savannah Portage State Park this past weekend.  The mosquitoes were bad, the campground neighbors were noisy, and the traffic on the way back was horrendous.  But it was a great trip.  We hiked, fished (no luck), and we took the kids in a canoe for the first time.  And many of the trees were covered in lichens.
You might be able to find the Rough Speckled Shield Lichen growing near your home if you live in the eastern United States; it's a common lichen and fairly tolerant of pollution.  Look for a bluish-green leafy lichen with wrinkles and little white dots (though it could be a different lichen, the only way to know for sure is to look very closely).

In my very informal, and not at all comprehensive survey of the lichens at Savannah Portage, I only found one example of the Rough Speckled Shield Lichen. It was on a piece of bark that had fallen off of a tree at Loon Lake (where we spent much of time because of the beautiful setting, playground, and general lack of fellow campers).  I took these pictures (and many, many more) with the new macro lens that my in-laws gave to me for my birthday.  Thank you so much Barb and Tom!

Thursday, May 26, 2011


I took pictures of these conks in March.  Some conks are perennial and continue growing from season to season.  When I photographed them in March I intended to return periodically to see if there was any change.

They were very white in March.  Not much happened until a few weeks ago when they started looking moldy (darker patches in current picture).  I kind of gave up on them, figuring they weren't going to grow if they were getting moldy.  But then today I noticed what looks like fresh fungal material (the off white stuff) growing over the older, darker fungus.  I didn't expect to see this, since it appeared that these wood rotting conks were themselves going rotten.  But then again, the conk is just the spore producing, or fruiting body of the fungus.  Most of this fungus is living inside the tree, breaking down and feeding on the wood.   For comparison, if a rose dies and falls off a rose bush, the rose bush continues living (It's not a perfect comparison, not even as close as apples and oranges, just for mental imagery purposes); when a conk or mushroom dies, the fungus body, or mycelium, keeps on living (inside the tree in this case).

I guess I'll keep watching.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Little Brown Mushroom #6

Spring Polypore - Polyporus arcularis

Some LBMs I found growing on a log along the Mississippi River at Crosby Farm Regional Park, Polyporus arcularis.  It is fairly distinctive for a polypore; it has large angular pores under the cap, and the stem is central, instead of off-center, lateral, or absent as in most polypores.

I also found the orange fungus pictured below on the same log.  I had walked by the same log in March and noticed the bright orange inside the hole in the tree, which really stood out, given that everything else was mostly white or brown.  I'm glad I stumbled across this log again, especially since my search for Prothonotary Warblers (presumably nesting at Crosby Farm) through all the mud and Wood Nettles was fruitless.  The same log also had a number of cup fungi growing along it's length, which may appear in a future post.  It would be interesting to return to this log again to see how this orange fungus progresses through the season, and to see what else sprouts up (and maybe see a Prothonotary Warbler).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Little Brown Mushroom #5

I found these fungi today growing on a fallen Ash Tree branch (Fraxinus sp).  They immediately caught my eye as I walked past (unlike the morels that are fruiting somewhere right now).

I don't know what kind of mushroom they are.  I did some browsing through the pictures in my mushroom guides, but nothing really matched.  They are about the size of a quarter, woody, and very thin.

The underside makes a nice pattern.  It would be nice to sound knowledgeable and say it's this mushroom or that mushroom.  But I just don't know.  I'll just leave it at as a mushroom that I admired today.

Ok, I won't leave it is as a mushroom that I admired a few days ago.  After originally posting this, I was trying to identify another small polypore when I came across a picture and description that made a good match, Polyporus alveolaris, or the Hexagonal-pored Polypore. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dryad's Saddle

Sara brought this mushroom home for me after a walk around the neighborhood this evening.  I told her that nothing says love like coming home with a big, brown mushroom.  A guy she passed on the street exclaimed "What is that thing!"  She replied "A mushroom".  He was probably more wondering why she was walking around NE Minneapolis with it.  This one is about eight inches across, so pretty noticeable in someones hand.   It's a Dryad's Saddle, Polyporus squamosus.  She found it and more growing on a log along busy Broadway St.

The Dryad's Saddle is edible.  I cooked up a few pieces of the tender edge in butter for us to try.  A little tough, but not unpleasantly so, with most of the flavor being in the after taste, which I guess I would describe as green vegetable.  Sara thought it had a sort of citrus flavor somewhere.  For me, a mushroom more to admire than eat (but for me, that's the case with most mushrooms, I just like looking for, finding and learning what they are).

The Dryad's Saddle is a polypore, so it has pores on it's underside rather than gills.  One unique feature of the Dryad's Saddle is that it's pores are angular in shape and fairly large for a polypore.

Here's pair of Dryad's Saddles I found at Westwood earlier in the week.  They are fairly common around here in May.  If you are interested in sampling one, visit the Mushroom Expert Polyporus squamosus page for more identification information.  

Silver Maple Seeds

This is the same tree I featured in my last Silver Maple post.  The seeds have really grown a lot.  The last post was ten days ago, and the seeds had barely started to develop and there was still a lot about them that said maple flower.  I was surprised they had grown so much, given the mostly cool weather we've been having.

Maple seeds are edible.  You have to take off the winged seed coat; the actual seed is found at the rounded part at the base.  Many sources say you have to boil them to remove the bitter tannins.  They are best when still green.  I've tried them unboiled and found them to be not bad.  Not much of an endorsement I know, but our sheltered palates aren't used to the flavors (or lack of) found in most wild foods,  Maybe I'll try some in a salad with my kids this spring; there are certainly enough around (enough seeds, I have two kids).

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Common Greenshield Lichen

Common Greenshield - Flavoparmelia caperata
Another of my finds from Falls Creek SNA.  This lichen was very noticeable when I first walked into the woods; the earlier rain intensified the color of this and many other lichens and mosses growing on the trees.  I didn't see as many of them as I walked on, but I think it might be because they started to blend into the background more as things dried out.

I'm fairly confident of my identification.  It's based on the following features:

  • the overall shape, texture, color and size matches the pictures in my books.
  • it grows on bark
  • under a dissecting scope I saw numerous grainy-looking warts ("coarsely granular soredia from pustules").
  • the underside is black with the edges brown.
  • there are a few small, black unbranched rhizines (rooting structures) on the underside.
  • the chemical tests matched, mostly . . .
To make your lichen identification more certain you should use a few chemical spot tests that indicate the presence of various lichen substances.  The two simplest and easiest to accomplish at home are the C test, or bleach and the K test, or potassium hydroxide solution, with sodium hydroxide, or lye and drain cleaner being close substitutes.  Another test you can easily do at home is the KC test, where you first drop your K solution, let it soak in, and then your C solution.  The way these test work is that in the presence of particular lichen substances, certain parts of the lichen will change color.  In the case of Flavoparmelia caperata, the C and K test produce no color changes, which is what I saw.  The KC test produces a gold stain on the outside of the lichen (the cortex), and pink stain on the inside (the medulla).  I didn't see this, I saw a really bright green on the cortex, and a orangish, brownish, maybe pink color on the medulla.  So I could be wrong (I'm definitely still learning), or maybe because I'm not using potassium hydroxide for the K test.

Whatever the results, it's an enjoyable process.  You might wonder why I find it enjoyable, it seems like an odd pastime I suppose (though if you're reading this blog you can probably see how).  For me it's like doing a puzzle and it's the joy of learning.  And there is the occasional insight or new perspective on the world; another small piece of the puzzle falls into place making the picture clearer.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Little Brown Mushroom #4

Early Spring Entoloma - Entoloma vernum
The first little brown mushroom of the season, the Early Spring Entoloma!  It may be any one of many Entolomas, they are hard to identify, so the species name I gave it, vernum is questionable. But it is an Entoloma; the key characteristics are that it is small, it is brown, it grows on the ground, and it has a pinkish spore print.

This one and many others were growing under a dense stand of young White Pines (Pinus strobus) in Falls Creek SNA (more on my trip there later),  I took some pictures in the field, but they were all too blurry; I think my camera was tired.   Growth under conifers and in the early spring are characteristics of the Early Spring Entoloma.

In general, Entoloma is a poisonous group of mushrooms.  Don't eat a small, brown mushroom that grows on the ground, and has a pinkish spore print.

For more information on identifying the Early Spring Entoloma, consult the Mushroom Expert website.  You'll find a fairly entertaining description of the Entoloma vernum species complex.  Yes, little brown mushrooms can be entertaining!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Meal Moth

Meal Moth - Pyralis farinalis
I found a few of these moths hanging out inside the nature center at Westwood.  They are Meal Moths, the caterpillars can be found feeding on stored food products.  I wonder what they are eating at Westwood?  Hopefully just in the food for the meal worms that are kept in containers to feed our various reptiles and amphibians, and hopefully not on my lunch (kept in containers to feed me); they can carry the rat tapeworm, which can infect humans.

These moths belong to the moth family Pyralidae.  The name supposedly means "an insect fabled to live in fire".  Interesting.  The species name, farinalis, comes from the Latin farina, or ground corn.  That makes more sense.

I identified this moth after some lucky browsing through "Moths & Caterpillars of the North Woods" by Jim Sogaard.  Most of the information in this post is directly taken from his book.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Little Brown Mushroom #3

A cluster of brown mushrooms I found sprouting between the brick edging at my in-law's house.

I think they are oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus spp).  Oyster mushrooms are usually big mushrooms growing on rotting trees.  And they are often white or gray.  Growing between bricks on the ground is an unusual location.  There must be some rotting wood underneath the bricks.  Oyster mushrooms are edible and cultivated and sold in grocery stores.  Oyster mushrooms don't usually grow in the spring, so maybe these are leftover from last year (they certainly don't look fresh).

One interesting thing about oyster mushrooms is that their hyphae can digest nematods and bacteria.  An unusual feeding strategy for a fungus that normally "feeds" on the cellulose of rotting wood?  Maybe not, considering the many fungi that are parasites or pathogens.  I wonder what other unusual ways the many and less studied little, brown mushrooms of the world get their nutrition. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Maples Sprouting

Maple seeds are sprouting all over the garden.  The one above hasn't managed to shed its seed yet.

This one looks like it is also struggling with its seed.  I like this picture because it has the prickly pear cactus in the background (probably an unlikely combination outside of a garden).

I've assumed the the maples sprouting in our garden are Silver Maples (since we have a big one growing in our front yard).  But I actually paid attention to them today, instead of just pulling them up, and I think they are probably Norway Maples; the leaf-shape is wrong for a Silver Maple (unless the young leaves are shaped differently, which is possible).  There are Norway Maples growing on the boulevard, but where are the Silver Maple sprouts?  Maybe they sprout later in the year.  But I don't really remember pulling up little maple sprouts later in the year.  Below is the one maple sprout I didn't pull up (to watch and maybe eventually replace our old Silver Maple).  It looks like a Norway Maple.

On Thursday I took a picture of Silver Maple leaves; they hadn't fully leafed out yet.  Today they look like respectable leaves (but look rather autumnal with the orange coloration). 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Silver Maple Flower

Following the development of Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) flowers.  The flowers have presumably been fertilized and you can see the shape of the helicopter seeds (samara) more clearly now.  This is the same tree pictured in a previous post.

The leaves haven't completely opened up yet.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Lichens on a Glacial Erratic near Marsh Lake

I took a birding trip to Salt Lake (Minnesota) on the South Dakota border with my good friend Kerry this weekend.  Our main goal was to watch shorebirds, but everything was really flooded, and the mudflats that attract the shorebird were underwater.  Plus it was really, really windy, which made everything in the spotting scope hard to see.  So we didn't see many shorebirds (at least not many different species; we did see a flock of 1,000+ Lesser Yellowlegs at one point which was really cool).

We birded some other areas, including Marsh Lake in the Lac Qui Parle Wildlife Management Area.  There were plenty of birds, hundreds of White Pelicans and gulls, but most were on the far shore of the lake.  There was a large boulder nearby on our side of the lake, a glacial erratic, a rock deposited thousands of years ago by one of the glaciers that had moved through the area.

We walked over to it.  I wanted to climb on top, hoping to get a better view, maybe of an hidden mudflat, teeming with shorebirds.  But no luck, it was a little too tall, steep, and smooth to climb on top.  But it was covered in lichens.

I spent a little time at home paging through books, hoping to identify some of these lichens.  But I didn't have a hand lens with me at the time, or chemicals to test for the presence of different lichens substances, and I didn't try to bring any home for further study; they belonged where they were.

After some lucky browsing, I believe the squamulose lichens in the above picture are Rock-posy lichens (Rhizoplaca spp).  Squamulose lichens are somewhere between crustose, or crust-like and foliose, or leaf-like, in appearance.  I'm talking about the grayish blobs (thallus) with the pinkish blobs (apothecia, spore producing part).  They and their saxicolous (growing on rocks) companions made up some interesting and beautiful combinations.

A closer look at the glacial erratic.

It was a great trip!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Moss Watching at the Quaking Bog

I took a walk through the Quaking Bog at Theodore Wirth park after work today.  The Chorus Frogs were calling, White-throated Sparrows were singing, and I was sheltered from the cold wind blowing today.

Below are some pictures of the Sphagnum Moss that make up the quaking bog.

The "ground" in a quaking bog looks solid but it's actually sphagnum moss growing on top of layers of peat (dead, slowly decaying sphagnum moss) that is floating on the water.  It is often firm enough to walk on, but quaking bogs are delicate places and too much traffic would damage them.  And you could fall through and get really wet.  The bog at Theodore Wirth has a floating boardwalk to minimize the impact of visitors.

The waters of a quaking bog are poor in nutrients and low in oxygen.  The sphagnum moss helps create and maintain this condition.  Many plants that grow in quaking bogs have adaptations to help deal with these deficiencies.

Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea) trap and digest insects in their leaves to supplement the low nutrients of the bog.

These are the cones of a Tamarack tree (Larix laricina).  Tamarack roots grow near the surface of the bog to obtain oxygen that is absent deeper in the peat.  Over time, new layers of peat accumulate at the surface.  To keep their roots from being buried in the accumulating peat (and cut off from oxygen), Tamaracks grow new roots up at the surface.

The water of a quaking bog is acidic.  The acidity is promoted by the sphagnum, and the chemical process involved helps the sphagnum utilize the limited nutrients.

The low oxygen and high acidity of bog waters delay decomposition, and aid in the formation of peat

Every quaking bog I've been to (I've been to a few) has a moat; an area of open water between the solid ground and the floating sphagnum and peat.

Some duckweed and maple flowers floating in the moat (crossed over by a little floating bridge).

Now on to some moss on the land around the quaking bog.

The little plants growing in the moss in the next picture are Jewelweed (Impatians sp.) seedlings.

And finally, some moss growing in the cracks of the bike path that runs near the bog.