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Posts Tagged ‘mushrooms’

Over the weekend, I discovered a number of previously unseen life forms with my grandson.  The biodiversity present in our boggy woods never fails to impress, but this is especially so when you have a child along to point out the weird and wonderful.  

After weeks of heavy precipitation, the woods were full of unusual fungi. 

Once considered plants, it’s now believed that fungi share more characteristics with life forms in the animal kingdom.  While the cell walls of plants consist of cellulose, theirs contain chitin, which is also found in the shells of crustaceans, insects and some molluscs.  Unlike plants, which can make their own food through the process of photosynthesis, fungi survive by consuming dead matter.

Despite having a good field guide, I still find it difficult to identify the types of fungi I find in the woods.  There seems to be such a variation in color and shape as they age, which complicates the identification process even more.

However, from my grandson’s perspective,  it wasn’t necessary to know the names of these fungi in order to marvel at their remarkable appearance.  Perhaps Nature is most awesome to those who carry child-like wonder in their pockets instead of field guides.

To attain knowledge, add things every day.  To attain wisdom, remove things every day.

~ Lao Tsu

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You must not know too much, or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and water-craft; a certain free margin, and even vagueness – perhaps ignorance, credulity – helps your enjoyment of these things…
~Walt Whitman

Sometimes, it’s good to know less than more.  Acquiring more knowledge of a subject often removes a soft veil of mystery that leaves only the bare facts visible.  The magic disappears. 

The numerous types of lichens, mosses and fungi make the woods seem more magical for many of us.  Is this because we typically know less about them than other living things in the forest?  If I encounter new, unknown varieties on a walk in the woods, why does this make the excursion more enchanting?  Perhaps, sometimes, it’s best to not know the names of things so that mystery and wonder can survive.

Though correct identification is helpful if they’re going to be eaten, nature’s myriad types of fungi need not be named in order to be enjoyed for the beauty of their subtle colours and forms.  Their ability to uplift our spirits are nonetheless.  And it may just be easier to imagine them eaten by elves or sat upon by delicate faeries if their exact variety is unknown to us.

I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.
~  Harry Emerson Fosdick

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fungi 10

Fall is an excellent time to see fungi in Nova Scotia’s woods.  Whether growing on the ground or on decaying trees, these life forms are varied, with some species being edible.

fungi

Of the ten types of fungi I managed to photograph in my yard in the past week, I am only confident of the identification of one, the orange jelly at bottom centre which is considered edible if boiled.  Even with the use of an Audubon field guide, I’m still wary of my ability to correctly identify the less colorful varieties.  Despite minute differences, they all look so similar to one another.

Although a distinction is often made between mushrooms and toadstools, with toadstools often considered toxic and with a tapered (as opposed to straight) stalk, there is no scientific basis for this.  The edibility of mushrooms is best determined by experts rather than through trial and error.  The adage that there are old mushroom pickers and bold mushroom pickers, but no old, bold mushroom pickers is probably true. 

fairy rings and toadstools by richard doyle

Due to the poisonous and hallucinogenic nature of some fungi, they have often been given magical properties in art and literature.  Faeries and gnomes are frequently depicted beside toadstools as in the 19th century painting of Fairy Rings and Toadstools (shown above) by Richard Doyle.  I once came across one of these ‘fairy’ rings in my yard.  They originate in the growth of fungi around the outer edge of the decaying underground roots of old trees.  It seemed pretty harmless in the light of day, but who knows what magic transpired in its midst during moonlit nights.

fungi with copper pennies

Copper penny test to determine toxicity of mushrooms as per Wind's comment

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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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