Monday, December 27, 2010

One last Lion’s Mane mushroom, a big one

A last hurrah of the season, found in mid-November (I say “last hurrah” because all rain stopped in mid-September…the woods here dried up into a crunchy, dead-leaf desert).

Here was my first glimpse of it, me standing right on the trail—I thought, “What is that, a rock?” It was near a bluff, with lots of chunks of chert around. Could have been a rock. But as I got closer, the color became more alive and somehow translucent.

Lion's Mane mushroom
Nov. 13, 2010

I say “right on the trail” in italics, for emphasis, because lots of people hike in this park, and I can’t believe my luck about what I find when I’m just poking along on the trail, not even crashing through the underbrush. People either don’t see stuff, or are disinterested, or say, “Ew, gross”, or I don’t know what. I’m just saying that one does not have to go deep into dark forests to find mushrooms. Because mushrooms are everywhere.

This was the biggest one I’d found this year, growing in a kind of funny low spot so its bottom edges were actually smooshed against the ground (usually they’re higher up a tree. Often maddeningly out of reach).

Bearded Tooth mushroom on tree base      Bearded Tooth on tree base

Below, I’ve thrust my pocket knife into it triumphantly. Regular readers may remember that my open pocket knife is 5-3/8” long, since I use it so often to indicate scale, and constantly mention its size.

Lion's Mane with knife for scale

Something a little gruesome about that shot (above)

Hericium erinaceus

Nothing gruesome about THIS one, though, in my opinion. But, I know what these TASTE like, so to me it is beautiful.

Hericium erinaceus cut surface

Above, the base, showing the cool moist spongy interior, after I'd cut it off the tree. You can see the knife marks where I sawed away at it. Oh, and to add to the fun, it squeaks when you cut it.

I’d say it was a bit bigger than an average human brain.

I cut it off the tree and it was perfect and I gave half of it to a pal and that still left enough for me to lightly gorge myself on—a big serving, the kind where you know if you eat more, you’ll feel a little stuffed, in a lovely, indulgent sort of way. Man, just looking at that image makes my mouth water, I can smell it, in my mind! Like the freshest chilled scallops and lobster you can imagine.

Helpful hint: whenever I collect these I put them in their own plastic bag (even if I've already got other edibles collected), to keep them as clean as possible, minimizing junk getting caught in the soft hairy spines. The less I have to cut off and discard, the better, because every possible edible morsel of these is worth it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Common split gill with bonus beetle

Common split gill with beetle


I was poking along in the woods on a chilly mid-November morning, found a stick with a bunch of little white bracket fungi on it, turned it over and found this surprise—a little beetle (Seven-spotted Lady Beetle, Coccinella septempunctata), taking refuge on the underside of a Schizophyllum commune.

When I viewed it full-screen, there was another surprise—there’s actually a tiny bug on the beetle! On the bigger black spot, that little tan thing. Jan. 17 edit: the tiny bug on the beetle is a springtail, a Collembola--those things are everywhere.

Schizophyllum commune
Whoo! I love me some Schizophyllum commune.

The big central one is about an inch across.

Those aren’t gills, it is a folded pore surface that looks like gills.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Deer skull articulation investigation

Deer skeleton
In late October I went for a hike, even though it hadn’t rained for a solid MONTH. No exciting mushroom activity to speak of, so dry and crunchy out there, but I did find this whole deer skeleton.

I usually snag every skull I find in the woods (shhh, you’re not supposed to take stuff), and carry it home triumphantly, but I left this one. Sick of carrying stuff? Maybe I just have enough deer skulls?

I took some pictures though.

I got fascinated with the wonderful lines created by the sutures (and I just now had to call my anatomy teacher pal to ask her if it was “reticulation” or “articulation”, and she said since it’s a joint, it’s “articulation”). They allow tiny amounts of movement, which makes the skull less vulnerable.

deer skull eye socket
This is the cheekbone, with eye socket that big black curve on the left.

deer skull cheekbone
This is a broader view of the one before, showing the whole complicated mess--eye socket, nasal cavities, upper teeth at lower right, etc. Beautiful sculpture.

skull sutures
This is the top of the skull. The lines remind me of the little trails that snail mouths leave as they eat, swinging their heads from side to side. Oh, maybe you’ve never seen that. I had a fish tank next to my bed when I was little (with a pump and everything!), and there was a big snail in it that would eat the algae on the sides of the tank, and make these chew-trails on it that looked very much like the lines in the deer skull.

deer vertebrae


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Animal roundup (caution: snakes & spiny caterpillar pictures)

Here’s some nice creatures I’ve found recently. They are posted in order of Turtle, Very Spiny Caterpillar, and Venomous Snake, in case you want to manage your exposure, if you’re nervous about certain things.

Box turtle 10-7-2010 3-50-57 PM 3264x2448

A box turtle, possibly male, wishing I would go away and leave him alone.

Missouri has only two kinds of box turtles, Three-toed or Ornate. As far as I can tell I’ve only found Three-toeds.  They invariably suck into their shells when I find them so I can’t count their hind toes (that’s what the “Three-toed” part is referring to). Males usually have nice red or orange irises, but that’s not a fool-proof way to sex them. The Ornate ones have contrasting marks on their carapace and plastron, looks pretty obvious in pictures.

I see a turtle just about every single time I go into the woods.

I sure do like the colors on their scales!

Above, Eastern Comma caterpillar, Polygonia comma

There’s this great site,, where you can check boxes next to features (body color, spines, tufts, etc.), and it will give you choices that match, so you can figure it out. I mean for anything, plant or animal, bug, etc. Great if you don’t have enough field guides, like me.  “A portal to all living things,” they say. Can’t beat that!

Eastern Comma 2

Here’s his head. At first I was worried that he had some icky fungus problem, because it looked like things were growing out of his eyes, but it turns out that’s normal! Just more spines.
Some caterpillars have venomous spines, which eject venom when brushed up against or broken, so I will pretend that all spiny, hairy caterpillars have this, just to be safe. They won’t kill you, but who needs the pain, itching and heartache.

I wondered why they were called “Commas” (there’s “Question Mark” butterflies, too), and it’s all because of the shape of a little white mark on the underside of their wings. Well, whatever works.

Caterpillars are usually very busy and don’t stand still for you to photograph.

Snake image below! Run!


That’s a BABY Copperhead. Even though she looks 3 feet long in this image, she was only about 14” long. Yeah, they’re venomous, but not THAT venomous, and this one was very small, and she had plenty of room to leave, and she wasn’t in any position to strike, and I had to take her picture. And I’m so glad I did, or I would never have noticed her chartreuse tail tip.

There’s an article in the MDC online that’s trying to tell me that young copperheads use that green tail tip as a caudal lure (like those insane deep-sea fishies that wiggle little things in their open mouths to attract prey—and like alligator snapping turtles)—as in, they sit coiled, with their tail tip sticking out, and wiggle it at lizards and things who think it’s a caterpillar and wander over and are nabbed by the copperhead! And that they lose the green tail color by the time they’re about two years old, when they’re big enough to get prey the “regular” way.

I’d love to believe this.

Anyway, here’s her head.
Copperhead head cropped

The subtle color shading on those brown hourglass marks on her back remind me of feathers, or butterfly scales. So beautiful. Click on it. The resolution’s not great, though, because I WAS using the zoom (but, I DID lean in, at arm’s length, to about two feet away, while keeping up a chattering stream of reasons why it was okay, to my hiking pal who didn’t even want to look at it—“It’s so small it couldn’t even get a good bite anyway, look, it has plenty of room to get away, they’re not deadly venomous, I’m moving really slowly, it could never bite through my Carhartts.” etc., etc.).

Missouri’s got five venomous snakes, and they all have vertical pupils (but not every venomous snake has vertical pupils, so don’t get too full of yourself) because they’re all pit vipers. Please don’t make me go read up on that too. Just know that in Missouri, all the venomous snakes are in the pit viper family and they’ve all got vertical pupils. Unless somebody’s captive exotic venomous snake got loose. Or snakes from other states are migrating here.

I think the combination of their vertical slit pupils, and the way the scales on their heads are arranged, makes them look crabby.

So, in between all the mushrooms, there’s all kinds of other cool stuff out there!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hericium erinaceus in the same spot as last year

Even though it's been distressingly DRY here, starting in late September (the absolute worst time for a stretch of no rain to start, in terms of fall mushrooms), they're still out there, in particular the ones that grow on trees (alive or dead). So, since I'm a "there's got to be a pony in here somewhere" type, I went for a hike, to see if, by some wild chance, there was a Lion's Mane growing where we found two (and a waterlogged one in the stream) last year.

There was!

See them, glowing white, right in the middle of the photo above?

About the size of a decent grapefruit. There's a penny balanced on top of the one furthest left (I put it there).

I was there a week earlier, and the smallest one was there, but not the two bigger ones. The little one was maybe 2", and truly no sign at all of the bigger ones. So I was absolutely delighted to find these guys when I came back.

Besides the fact that they taste like lobster or scallops, well, just look at them.
Here, I'll help you.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Parrot Waxy Cap

Here's a little leftover sweetheart (Hygrocybe psittacina) from an earlier hike (Sept. 26th). It's one of the ones I'd been hoping to find, because, well, they're beautiful, especially when young.

I wasn't at all sure of what these were at first, seeing a troupe of vaguely-orange, small shiny mushrooms, until I poked around a little more and found the just-emerging green ones (below). That color made it pretty unmistakable.

They start out this wonderful parrot-green color (there's another one in the background, the cap was just starting to poke out), then fade to olive-yellow, then orange. They're "decidedly slimy" (to quote Michael Kuo), and get barely 3" tall. This one was about an inch. 

How do they push their way out of the soil without getting completely covered with stuff stuck all over them? And what IS that slime, anyway? What's it FOR? Or maybe that's WHY they come out of the soil without stuff stuck all over them--they're so slick nothing can stick. They're not sticky, after all, they're slimy. Big difference. Anyway, that's them, straight out of the camera, in all their charming, parrot-green, slimy splendor.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Oyster mushrooms

Once you see a young Pleurotus ostreatus, I don't see how you could mistake anything else for these. But you can, and I sure have, because I didn't know what I was looking at, until I'd seen lots of them.

I've only been at this for a year, and I find plenty of mushrooms that at first glance look pretty oystery. Then I see something like the gills aren't running down the stem like they're supposed to, or the gills are too close together or too even and regular, or it doesn't have that lovely faint fish odor, and I am disappointed, but I pick myself up by my hiking boots and move on with my life. There will be more.

I know this because mushrooms are everywhere, EVEN WHEN IT HASN'T RAINED FOR A SOLID MONTH and all the leaves are falling so you can't see hardly anything on the forest floor and when you're hiking with someone and they get a little ahead of you you can't hear a word they say because of the leaf crunching so you have to stop walking and keep yelling "What???" all the time.

But the mushrooms that grow on trees and logs keep going because there's plenty of moisture there. That's nice, because most of my favorites grow on wood anyway.

All that wavy, decurrent-gill goodness...with a light ocean fragrance.

Here's a few more from the same tree:

And here's some tiny tiny TINY baby ones, tucked into an old woodpecker-hole--they were less than 1/4" tall (but, can you even be referred to as "tall" if you're only 1/4"?).

When they're this small they're called "pins" in the growing trade! This growth stage is called "pinning."
Here's a link to a whole bunch more pics of oyster mushrooms I've found: "Oysters"

I love oyster mushrooms. They're pretty abundant around here. I like to just saute a whole bunch of them and eat them straight from the bowl, because I am a pig glutton.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Black Trumpets (finally!)

Craterellus something--fallax, cornucopioides, I don't know which, there's some taxonomy games going on about these. And I don't have a microscope.
I've been dying to find some of these, after reading about how hard they are to find, how intense the flavor becomes when they're dried, how great it tastes to flavor wine with them by dropping a few in the bottle and leaving it overnight, how crazily expensive they are, etc. So much intrigue! I did find a tiny handful of them in the spring, but then it all looked pretty discouraging. But then me an' Rob were hiking around recently, and we wanted to go up there to check out that big dead tree, and suddenly they were everywhere. I froze, and yelled "TRUMPETS! Black Trumpets! Oh my gawd, they're everywhere!"

There's at least 20 in the image above. They're about 2" tall.

These are nice and dark because they're nice and wet because it had rained nice and hard the day before, but I'm telling you, these things shift between dimensions or something. You don't see them, and then suddenly you see them. And if they're not conveniently darkened from recent rain, they are EXACTLY the color of a dead leaf:

Here's me, for some perspective:

Anyway, we happily picked them for about an hour, I was thrilled, we got 3-4lbs of them, and oooh, when you've got a whole bunch of them together in a bag, the smell is intoxicating, if you like the smell of sweet, gamy, mushroomy earthy things.

Then a fellow mushroom freak reported finding some over where he hunts, and he picked 9 lbs one day, 7 lbs another day, 11 lbs another day...he said he thought there might be "hundreds of thousands" of them. Incredible.

Then I read some stuff about them, and learned (as much as you can call it "learning" from reading a single blurb on a commercial website) that 12 lbs fresh make one lb dry, which explains something about why they're so pricey. They are very thin-fleshed, it's not like you can really get a good chewy mouthful of them, they're more about flavor (which gets stronger when you dry them). I threw what I thought was kind of a lot (of fresh ones) into a pan (w/ butter of course), and they went "Shp!" and shrunk down to nothing in 2 seconds. Smelled wonderful, though, and what there was of them tasted wonderful. REALLY smelled wonderful.

Then there was no more rain and the whole world dried up. 

Stream, hill, leaves, rocks--and worm castings.

From right: rocks with leaves on them and water with leaves on it and rocks with moss on them and a hill with leaves on it and trees with leaves on them.
I'm sure it was beautiful, even if I couldn't take a decent picture of it because it wasn't 2" away from the camera. There's an awful lot of really beautiful little scenes like this all over the parks that are 10 minutes from where I live.

And then I found this
Worm castings from wild, free-range worms!
They were grey, and on grey rocks, and it looked black-and-white. The lighter ones are drier.

Sycamore bark, worm castings, stone
The texture got me.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bearded Tooth in my backyard!

In my back yard!!!

I drove into the little parking area in back, turned off the engine and sort of idly noticed that there was a new section of fence over there, and there it was, a lovely little Hericium erinaceus just sitting there in the tree next to the storage shed. It's an urban area, I tell you! Lots of college students in rented houses. House/driveway/house/driveway neighborhood.

Not a house in the country

That white dot on the tree is it

In my backyard!

About the size of a nice orange.

It was in my back yard! When I saw it, I felt like I just realized I was holding a winning lottery ticket. You may think I exaggerate, but I do not.  I wish I understood why I find it such a thrill to find choice edible mushrooms. I can't even think of what to compare it to. I wouldn't necessarily say it's the absolute best feeling I've ever had, but there is something kind of addictive about it. Someone should do a study.

You know why I found this in my back yard? I'll tell you why. It's because mushrooms are everywhere, that's why.

Marbled Orb Weaver (don't look if you think spiders are gross)

As I crash through the woods, there's this one kind of spider that I always run into, unless I see it in time and manage to stop half an inch before I walk face-first into the web. This is not it.

Marbled Orb Weaver, Araneus marmoreus
Marbled Orb Weaver, another one
Yet another one, quite a bit bigger than the first two
Another view, all tangled up in the leaves. These are all females
I didn't see these at all until mid-September. Now they seem to be all over the place.

The markings in the black-and-yellow zone look just like batik, to me. Their red-orange legs are so bright in the woods.

A few more Chicken of the Woods finds (extra deluxe)

These images are in hard-to-believe colors, but it's all true. The first one (below) we found the day after a good hard rain, and it was young and vibrant anyway, but I'm telling you, we could see this sucker from light years away. This was shot in the sun, which is rare for me. Also, it was juicy and succulent, nearly dripping as we harvested the most tender outer edges.

Laetiporus sulphureus
But this one, this one was the most perfect one I've found all season, tender enough to simply slice thin and saute and serve solo. And its pore surface is this incomprehensible yellow, and it comes in these wonderful shapes.

Happy Birthday to ME!
(FOUND on my birthday, not POSTED on my birthday)

So, mushrooms can be gorgeous, and you can EAT some of them! To hell with flowers!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Another Netted Rhodotus

Netted Rhodotus

No comment.

Trametes versicolor collection

For today's post, I give you good ol' turkey tails.

I just love these things. Like velveteen agates. They're really common, found all over the world.

I have a deep affection for these, but I didn't realize I've been taking pictures of them so often. I was looking for something else in some older images, and kept finding more pics of these, so I rounded up some of my favorites. These were all taken over the past year. Some are technically crappy, but look at the colors.

I'd like to know what causes the stripes and the different colors. The green one has algae growing on it, so it's excused. 

Personal favorite is the golden one, near the bottom.