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Archive for the ‘Fungi and Lichens’ Category

sweating shelf fungus

Come into the backwoods and I’ll show you something absolutely magical.  Fungi abound in this neck of the woods, but this bracket fungus is doing something I’ve not seen others do.  It’s crying.

sweat on fungus
These tears may look like raindrops, but they cover only the fungus, not the surrounding area, except for where they’ve dripped below and discolored the moss.  Present on one of the oldest, tallest spruce trees in the yard,  one can only wonder what could have caused tears to appear on this Red-belted polypore.

Old spruce tree and Red-belted polypore

Old spruce tree and Red-belted polypore

Red-belted polypores  are thought to hold anti-bacterial, anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory properties by native and oriental cultures.  If this is so, can you imagine what pharmacological mysteries their exudate droplets hold?  Since this old spruce tree reigns in a stand of smaller firs and magical  Rowan and Elderberry trees, some whimsical wonder must surely be at the bottom of this.

fairy tree entrance

Could this bracket fungus serve as an awning to a fairy door entrance into another realm?  An awning, perhaps, which sheds tears of joy when visitors arrive on the doorstep and tears of sadness when they depart.  One can only wonder.

fungal awning above fairy tree door

For more information on bracket fungi and their exudate droplets, see Red-Belted Bracket Fungi

This post is written in response to Karma’s ‘In Want of Whimsy’ Challenge.  Deadline for submissions is June 22nd.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2014

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Light grayish green lichens known as Old Man’s Beard hang from the trees in the forests.  Sometimes blown onto the ground on windy days, to the touch, these lichens are usually soft but sometimes stiff in dry weather.   A few are streaked with brown.

Old Man’s Beard is frequently found in clean, moist environments such as boggy woods.  Though it prefers to cling to coniferous trees in old growth forests, it also hangs from the younger birches in my backyard.  Sensitive to air pollution, it’s often found with other types of lichens, such as the foliose lichens shown below.

  

Canada’s native people harvested Old Man’s Beard long ago and added it to their diet.  It can be steamed or dried and pummeled into a powder.   A strong antibiotic, it was also used to prevent infection and gangrene from setting into external wounds.   A thousand years ago, Old Man’s Beard was already being used as a medicine to treat lung cancer.  It’s still used today as a treatment for tuberculosis in China as it contains usnic acid.

La barbe de nain illustration by Elisabeth Ivanovsky

The antibiotic properties of Old Man’s Beard make it an effective treatment for fish infections in ponds and aquariums.  Yellow warblers seek forests where the Beard is present as they consider it an indispensable construction material in building their nests. 

A french fairy tale, LA BARBE DE NAIN by Marcelle Vérité, explains that the beards once belonged to elves.  Long ago, it was customary for these kind, cheerful creatures to arrange bundles of deadwood on the forest floor as a gift for mankind.   But when men greedily began to cut down live trees, the elves hastily fled to remote mountain peaks, snagging their beards on branches in the process.  The lost beards can be found in forests to this day.

Considering the wonderful medicinal properties of these beards, their elvish origins are no surprise to me.

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You may already be aware that nature inspires and refreshes our spirits but did you know that it also influences our speech? Here are a few idioms (words and phrases that hold a special meaning in a given language) that have their roots in the natural world:

A hornet’s nest <Potential trouble> ~ I don’t think anyone would care to poke this nest, even with a ten foot pole.

All that glitters is not gold < Attractive appearances can be deceiving> ~ In this photo of rocks found along the Salt Marsh Trail, it’s pyrite aka fool’s gold.

To mushroom  <To grow or develop at an exponential rate> ~ This enormous shelf fungus seems to be growing more quickly than normal on a decaying tree in my yard.  It’s about a foot in width, an unusual find in my neck of the woods.

Thanks to Karma at Karma’s When I Feel Like It Blog  who challenged her readers to use photographs to illustrate three idioms from the English language.  A photo showing ‘Hallowe’en’ was also part of her request.  To me, Hallowe’en implies something scary, and to many people, next to death and public speaking, the scariest things on the planet are spiders. 

Living near boggy woods, we have a lot of spiders near our home, especially around Hallowe’en.  Sometimes they cross the threshold uninvited and visit us indoors.  This one  is probably the biggest I’ve ever found in the house.  After the photo shoot, it was promptly sent on its merry way outdoors while I cleared out the cobwebs.

If you’d like to participate in Karma’s idiom challenge, you have until October 31st 2011 to do so.

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Mayflowers c. 1840 by Maria Morris Miller

April showers bring mayflowers.  Sometimes in May… sometimes in April.

It’s raining today which is good news for all things green and growing.  Mayflowers  (aka trailing arbutus ~ Epigaea repens) are among the earliest native blooms to appear in Nova Scotia.  Half-hidden on the edge of the woods, their leathery leaves may look ragged and browned in spots, but the flowers are nonetheless fresh and pristine.  Their petals fade from light pink to white as spring progresses.

Mayflowers enjoy the moist, acidic environments that are typically found near bogs.   They are also shy plants, with a preference for shade. 

Over a century ago mayflowers were designated the floral emblem of Nova Scotia.  Found throughout most of eastern North America, this native evergreen plant is now considered an endangered species in Florida and vulnerable in New York. 

Unbeknownst to many gardeners who unsuccessfully try to transplant them, the roots of mayflowers have a secret relationship with fungus.  In this mutually beneficial liaison (also known as a mycorrhizal association), fungi gain direct access to carbohydrates through the roots of the mayflower.  At the same time, the fungus  makes the mayflower more resistant to disease and drought. 

In the language of flowers, mayflowers mean welcome.  Welcome to Nova Scotia.  Welcome to spring.

The image of mayflowers at top left was scanned from a postcard I purchased at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History over two decades ago.  I photographed the mayflowers just a short walk from the bottom of Flandrum Hill Road last week.

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For every beauty, there is an eye somewhere to see it.
For every truth, there is an ear somewhere to hear it.
For every love, there is a heart somewhere to receive it.
~ Ivan Panin

Messy woods that consist of a tangle of fallen trees are seldom considered worthwhile exploring. Yet there are wonders waiting to be revealed in the most unlikely places…

Though it’s now barely noticeable underfoot, millions of years ago, the creeping club moss shown above grew much larger.  The swamps that were filled with these club moss trees during the Carboniferous period were eventually transformed into the coal that’s mined today. 

Did a flicker make this hole? Standing dead trees (snags) in old growth forests offer places for wild creatures to nest. If flickers nest here this year, they’ll be looking for tasty ants, their favorite food, to feed upon in the neighborhood this summer.

Who treads the delicate stairs of this stair-step moss?   Utilized in the past as a covering for dirt floors and a gap filler between the logs of log cabins, it’s now being studied for its anti-bacterial properties.

The porcupine teeth marks on this tree reveal a delicate pattern.  Could we be missing a woodland delicacy by not including inner bark in our diet? It might be worthwhile trying in a survival situation.

Could this delicate creeping vine be partridge berry? Its rich red hue will turn to green later this spring when it will blend in more with the mosses surrounding it.

The forest is reflected in a woodland pool that will sustain a diversity of life before it dries later this summer. Do the faeries sit on this log at the end of day to relax and chat about the day’s adventures?

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.
~ Roald Dahl

These photos were taken on a most enjoyable walk in the woods yesterday with my friend Sybil of Eastern Passage Passage who posted a very different version of our adventure on her blog 🙂 You can read her post here.

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Boreal Felt Lichen

If there was the slightest chance that a rare organism existed in your neck of the woods, would you try to find it? 

The Boreal Felt Lichen  (BFL) is considered a critically endangered species globally.   Acid rain and forest disturbances have threatened its existence on both sides of the Atlantic.  Once found in Sweden, Norway and New Brunswick, it is now believed to only exist in  Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. 

The BFL possesses the remarkable ability to convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into a form that can benefit forest plants and animals.  Like many of the earth’s rare organisms, it finds its home in forests that have not been disturbed by man and simply left in their primeval state. 

The color of the BFL varies from brownish-grey to bluish-green depending on its age and how moist or dry it is.  Velvety above, dried fronds curl to reveal a whitish edge.  Brownish-red berry-like nodules may be found on mature specimens.  BFL are usually found on balsam firs in the presence of the liverwort Frullania tamarisci.

Certain qualities are common to the woodland environments in which the Boreal Felt Lichen is already known to live:

  • The forest is within 25 km of the Atlantic coast.
  • Mature balsam fir trees grow in the area.
  • There is a North facing slope.
  • Sphagnum moss is found in the nearby wetland.
  • Ferns (cinnamon ferns esp.) are found among the grasses.
  • Red maples and black spruce trees are also found growing in the area.

Balsam fir needles and sphagnum moss

Although I’ve noticed all of the above qualities in the boggy woods behind my home, I’ve yet to find any BFL.  But I’ll keep looking.  You might like to look for them in your neck of the woods too.   Looking for rare lichens might not seem very exciting at first, but it’s an excellent way to spend an afternoon with a friend or a child in the woods.  Once you try it, you’ll never look at a lichen-covered tree or branch the same way again.

If you would like to learn more about the Boreal Felt Lichen, please visit the Newfoundland Lichen Education & Research Group’s Erioderma website.  It features the most excellent images of the BFL presently available online.  Many thanks to Eugene Conway of the NLERG for granting permission to use the two images of the Boreal felt lichen shown at the top of this post.

For further related reading, see The Benefits of Lichens on Trees  and  Don’t Clear Your Woodlands.

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