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Posts Tagged ‘fungus’

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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Witches have been leaving their brooms in my yard for some time now, but it’s only recently that I’ve been able to recognize them for what they are. 

Witches’ brooms are not uncommon in coniferous forests across North America.  Here in Nova Scotia, they’re often found among the balsam firs.  A forest novelty, they look like mutant branches on otherwise normal-looking trees.

From a distance, they appear as a ball mass of twigs.  In winter, they’re bare of needles and look especially gnarly.  On large trees, they can measure several feet in diameter.

In spring, witches’ brooms grow nutritious shoots that are eaten by grouse and porcupines.  The new needles are a pale yellowish green and grow in a spiral pattern around the twigs in a manner that’s different from the tree’s other branches.  These needles dry up and die in the fall.

The broom is actually a fungus (Melampsorella caryophyllacearum Schröter) that depends on infection of alternate hosts for survival.  In my yard, the spores grow on the needles of the fir tree  in the spring and are picked up by chickweed that also grows nearby.  Later, the fungus on the chickweed passes its spores back to the firs.

Witches’ brooms aren’t  welcome on Christmas tree farms where they disfigure trees and weaken them for other diseases to take hold.  

In the wild, large witches’ brooms are sometimes used as a foundation for dreys (squirrels’ nests).  Northern flying squirrels and red squirrels are both known to make use of them for this purpose.  High above the ground in the canopy of the forest, they’re sometimes also used as a base for the nests of  birds of prey.

It’s funny how what man sees as messy and an eyesore in nature, wildlife employs for both food and habitat.  Perhaps we should get our vision checked. 

This past December, a friend was delighted to find a small witch’s broom in the Christmas tree she purchased on a tree lot.  Though the seller was eager to cut it off for her, she believed it added something magical to the tree. 

For more information on the Yellow Witches’ Broom in Nova Scotia, see here.

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fungus

Red-belted Polypore (Fomitopsis pinicola)

Out of damp and gloomy days, out of solitude, out of loveless words directed at us, conclusions grow up in us like fungus:  one morning they are there, we know not how, and they gaze upon us, morose and gray.  Woe to the thinker who is not the gardener but only the soil of the plants that grow in him.

~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Violet Toothed Polypore (Trichaptum biformis)

Violet Toothed Polypore (Trichaptum biformis)

Mossy Maze Polypore (Daedalea unicolor)

Mossy Maze Polypore (Daedalea unicolor)

Above, a few photos I took of the many fungi found growing in my yard.  They are quiet decomposers of the deadwood that was mostly the result of damage from Hurricane Juan in 2003.   All polypores, these ones are perennial and capable of surviving the winter frost.  Please let me know if I have been misguided in my identification of any of them.

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