The Slow March of the Mushrooms

Slightly shrunken, nondescript, this tiny mushroom faded into near-obscurity above the forest floor. Still, its presence suggested others might have taken hold, and so it was. Creeping through the mixture of damp, decaying needles and leaves, my eyes caught by unexpected bursts of color, I began to grasp the truth of Sylvia Plath’s delicate poem titled “Mushrooms.”

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly
Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.
Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.
Waxcap (Hygrocybe spp.)
Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,
Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,
Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes.
Waxcap (Hygrocybe spp.)
We diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking
Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!
We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,
Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:
We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

As if to prove Plath’s point, this Skullcap Dapperling (Leucocoprinus brebissonii), had emerged next to a trail. Described by Louis-Luc Godey as Lepiota brebissonii in 1874, it was moved to Leucocoprinus by Marcel Locquin in 1943. Long considered a European species, it’s recently been identified in the Pacific Northwest, often occurring in large groups on forest litter.

Bemused by the Skullcap’s seemingly overnight appearance in second-growth forests around Puget Sound, the University of Washington’s Burke Herbarium has questioned how such an abundant species could have made the move unnoticed, or been overlooked in the past.

Whatever the answer, it’s still on the move, having reached the Sam Houston National Forest and the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve. Here in Texas, it most certainly has its foot in the door.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Puzzling Pieces

 

In January, fallen leaves and dying vines make it easier to follow deer trails into the woods. Yesterday, along one of those trails, I found a rotting tree covered with this oddly attractive substance. Hard and smooth to the touch, the strange bits reminded me of scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I assumed the substance was either lichen or fungus: determining which was the next step.

As it turned out, that next step was relatively easy. Alexey Sergeev, a researcher whose interests are focused on such things as quantum-mechanical perturbation theory and who currently works at Tulane University, also spent time at Texas A&M in College Station. During those years, he photographed hundreds of Texas plants, as well as a good number of fungi, mosses, algae, and lichens, providing the date, location, and scientific name of each.

A search of his site using the phrase ‘fungus on oak’ found a match to my photo almost immediately, in the eighth row on the page. Ceramic parchment fungus — Xylobolus frustulatus — generally forms on the dry, well-decayed wood of oaks: precisely where I found it. Known as a crust fungus, X. frustulatus received its common name because it often looks like whitish tile fragments put together with black grout. Known as a saprobe, the ceramic parchment fungus survives by decomposing dead or decaying organic material and using it as food.

Another site, Fungus Fact Friday, provided a few more interesting details, including a way to determine the age of the fungus:

Each ’tile’ (or ‘frustule’ to mycologists) is shaped like an irregular polygon, has a smooth, white top, has sides that are black or dark brown, and has a wood-like consistency. The upper surface is irregularly lumpy but smooth and bears an uncanny resemblance to ceramic in both texture and color. It is from this surface that the spores are released. As the mushroom ages, this surface becomes pale pinkish to pale orangish with mature spores and then slowly turns brown.

Reading that, I couldn’t help thinking that, with age, this fungus appears less like a ceramic tile and more like a Scrabble tile. In either case, its appearance is fascinating.

 

Comments always are welcome..