Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Missouri woods—backlog—gorgeous edible mushrooms* II

*This is not a mushroom ID blog! Please use many resources when identifying mushrooms.

Blah blah blah excuses about not posting blah blah blah.

Here are some more beautiful mushrooms I found and ate (last fall). As ever, these were in state parks mere minutes from home. I guess I could drive further, and try new spots, but why? Mushrooms are everywhere (or rather, mushrooms are everywhere, if there’s enough rain…).

comb tooth
Hericium coralloides

Above, Hericium coralloides. My hiking pal ate these. There was a big fallen tree just bursting with these—and once again, right on the trail.

They are delicate and a little hard to clean, but delicious. I don’t even want to tell you what the flavor reminds me of, so you don’t go looking for them.

Hericium coralloides

Common name “comb tooth”. This little one, spilling out from a crack in a fallen tree, is about 2” long.

When I collect these I put them in their own bag to keep them as clean as possible. A lot can get stuck in all those little crevices…

Next is another Hericium, H. erinaceus, common name lion’s mane, bearded tooth, pom pom, satyr's beard, bearded hedgehog , bear paw, monkey fist, for starters. “Erinaceus” comes from ancient Greek for “hedgehog”.

Lions mane with knife
Hericium erinaceus

That’s not my knife so I can’t tell you how big it is for scale. I know that chunk is about 6”, though.

This one we could see from the comb tooth, as I recall!

That’s one beautiful lion’s mane.

Oh, look, there’s another one, also visible right from the trail!

Lion's mane on log

Lion's mane-001

Younger growth on the right--spines are shorter.

Doesn’t get much better than this, people. They are succulent and sweet at this stage; if they’re starting to turn yellow, they develop a sour/bitter tang with a funny aftertaste.

I’m pretty enamored of their structure:
Hericium erinaceus close up

God bless whoever figured out these were edible.

Here’s a little one just starting out:
young lion's mane

Only about 3” from top to bottom…

Moving on, we have a little story.

Went on a nice 2-day foray with the new local branch of the Missouri Mycological Society…but it was during last year’s late summer drought. Oh, sure, we found some stuff, but it paled in comparison to what we would have found in a year of typical rainfall. Usually, a fall foray produces tables loaded with specimens, a buffet of succulent, bizarre shapes. That year, the pickings were slim, and many were shriveled and dull from lack of moisture. Some were flat-out dried. But heading home after 2 happy days of clomping around in the woods with like-minded people, I decided to check a big tree I’d stumbled upon the year before, which had a lumpy mass growing at the base. I had no idea what it was, but after poring over field guides later, it finally registered what it might have been…a very young Grifola frondosa, or hen of the woods. Which I don’t have a picture of. But this is what I found:

Grifola frondosa
Grifola frondosa

  hen of the woods on car   

hen of the woods on scale

a) A shot on the trunk of my car, for scale.
b) A shot on a scale, for scale. Eight pounds 4 ounces! One mushroom!

I was very happy! I called the guy who led the foray as soon as I saw it. I had to call somebody! Somebody who would understand! It was my first real hen! Found on the drive home, 15 minutes after leaving a 2-day foray! After 2 days of looking for mushrooms and not finding much!

grifola frondosa underside
G. frondosa, pore surface

The picture above is a different one! But it’s still a hen of the woods! It’s one they found on the foray!

This is the pore surface (on its underside). There seems to be 2 color phases of hens, grey or tan.
Crashing waves! Driftwood! Delicious!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Missouri woods—backlog—gorgeous edible mushrooms* I

*This is not a mushroom ID blog! Please use many resources when identifying mushrooms.

After a nice 2012 morel-hunting season (but almost 2 months earlier than normal—!), a severe drought started here in central Missouri. Spring started out fine, but then it stopped raining, in MARCH. I lost my hiking/blogging momentum.

There was a nice rain about 2 months in, and I headed out all hopeful, but 15 minutes into it crashed into not one, but two horrific, enormous clouds of seed ticks—mission aborted.

We’ve had some rain recently, and I’ve been getting out there (still slim pickins), but why did I never post this stuff from last fall? So, here comes everything, in a few separate posts, in roughly chronological order. From last fall.

chicken of the woods on log

Above and below, gorgeous young chicken of the woods, mid-September. Saturated with rain, so the color is even brighter.

young Laetiporus sulphureus close up
I swear the color is not tweaked. They really can be so bright it almost hurts your eyes.

Below, more Laetiporus sulphureus, but older specimens, and not wet from recent rain.
large growth of Laetiporus  sulphureus
The pale grey horizontal stroke in the background is the trail in a very popular park! We harvested a lot of this, and left some, and later were swapping foray stories and found out that a friend of ours got what we left. “Oh, that was you guys? Thanks for leaving me some!”

I like them this young:
squeezing young chicken of the woods

Chicken of the woods turns butter bright yellow:
chicken of the woods sauteeing

Oh, man, if you’ve ever eaten these I know you’re in a reverie just looking at this! But wait ‘til you see the next one! Vegans, don’t look, you’ll hurt yourself!

chicken of the woods on steak
Sautéed chicken of the woods on rib eye with gorgonzola and asparagus. That was a great day.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A few September Missouri plants

More untimely yet chronological posts!

silvery lichen close up
A hike to The Place of Great Moss almost always delivers. Any time after some rain, except in the very hottest months, this one area just glows with soft bright green mosses and silvery lichen.

Lichens are composite organisms of a fungus and an alga or two. They’ve plunked lichen in the fungal kingdom. I have no beef with that.

(Also, I didn’t put that leaf there. I just showed up.)

moss and lichen hill
Special scratch-n-sniff image!
I hope you can feel the soft and moist in this photo, and if you (lightly!) scratch your screen you should be able to smell it—soft air, wet leaves, and damp earth and green. It’s just beautiful! I don’t know why there’s such a big swath of moss growing here…nothing else on this bluff in either direction looks much different…maybe some mysterious mineral deposit makes for prime conditions for this luscious moss neighborhood?

There are many different kinds of moss growing here. I’ve got my hands full with mushrooms, so unless I stumble upon their ID (see below), they’re just “moss.” Nothing personal.

Next is a tiny beauty that I actually revisited with my tripod. Looking down on the whole plant, it was ornate soft sparkles, which I simply could not capture. The texture of the flower heads made them stand out in organized patches, but the colors were too subtle for my camera to differentiate enough to show. Or, it could have been my own ineptitude. I tried! I swore a little!

Still, there was a lot going on in each flower head. Very tiny white-to-pink 4-petaled flowers, maybe 1/16”, and 3-lobed seed pods forming right next to them, green with blushes of rich red.

several toothed spurge flower heads
Euphorbia dentata, “toothed spurge.”  Please view large.

Euphorbia dentata flower head
Above, toothed spurge seedpods.

toothed spurge on fingers-001

TINY flowers.

It's considered a "noxious weed" by the USDA, so that's pretty bad. Another source points out its milky latex, which can cause blisters and dermatitis, and don't get it in your eyes! Yet another says it has 5-lobed flowers, which it clearly does not, and my dumb little "Weeds," a Golden Guide, casually throws out that "All have numerous clusters of tiny male and female flowers that lack both sepals and petals." I dunno, those sure look like petals to me...

I confess I had shrugged and walked away, regarding finding a name for this one. There’s a lot of weedy-looking, small, common native plants that don’t get featured in most field guides. My only “weed” guide is my little 4 x 6 Golden Guide. The only reason I was able to identify this was because there happened to be a photo of it in the March issue of Missouri Conservationist!

I’ll keep trying to get a satisfying overall shot of this one. I thought it was a captivating little plant. Don't tell the Feds!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

September fungi—a few uncommon polypores--Spongipellis unicolor, Berkeley's polypore, Abortiporus biennis

I found a few things that were visually appealing, but mystifying when it came to ID.

This small pale blob (about an inch across) was intriguing, with its lumpy network of holes, but I could not find anything remotely like it in any of my books or online. I wasn’t even sure it was a fungus! Could have been an egg-case, maybe. The problem, as it turned out, was this was a very young growth stage of this fungusbut thanks to the magic of the internet, I posted the image on you-know-where, tagged it with the names of the authors of some of the best mushroom books, and somebody ID’d it definitively in minutes (Gary Lincoff himself!). Then I plugged in the name, and got somewhere!
very young Abortiporus biennis
                                       Abortiporus biennis

As Abortiporus biennis matures, it turns into what Michael Kuo (MushroomExpert.com) calls “…a gnarled, messy-looking mass…” and it oozes a reddish juice. Yum!

After seeing some images of mature ones, I realized I must have stumbled upon them, but thought they were something moldy or too far gone to bother getting any closer. You can look them up, if you want, but they do look a mess. In any case, many thanks, Gary Lincoff! Your years of experience are a true treasure.

Next on the menu is another peculiar polypore which also stumped me.

Spongipellis unicolor (2)
                         Spongipellis unicolor

I confess that when I see most bracket-like tree fungi I often roll my eyes and keep walking, mainly because I have a lot of trouble with them—to me, they tend to blur together, and I can’t keep track of which is which. Never seen these before, though, and they were quite distinctive. Had to pull out the big guns and pester the pros again.

Spongipellis unicolor close up

Looks like some kind of bread or cake! Or, as Michael Kuo so eloquently puts it, “…kind of a big, doinky doofus…” among polypores. That must be why it got my attention! He also says “…it is not often mentioned in field guides (perhaps because it's too much of a doofus?).” The above specimen is about 5” from top to bottom. They grow on oaks, mostly. They’re parasitic.

Below is a nice swirling Berkeley’s polypore, Bondarzewia berkeleyi. It was a good 16” across. And there were three of them. These are not uncommon (and they come up in the same spot for years), and I didn’t have to send telegrams to experts for this one (partly due to an ID mishap when I found one before. Now I know!).

Berkeley's polypore
                                             Bondarzewia berkeleyi

Just a pretty fungus swirl on the forest floor.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Polyphemus moth caterpillar (September)

(Note: while the next several posts may not be exactly timely, I try to always post things in the order I found them.)

So we were hiking around during the 2011 summer/fall drought (meaning, bad for mushrooms), and my hiking pal came upon this bright bright BRIGHT green fat fat FAT caterpillar.
bright green caterpillar on the ground

It was the caterpillar of a Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus)—a big elegant silkworm moth, many shades of brown with nice eyespots on the wings. The male moths have enormous feathery antennae (a pic of one I found, here), for detecting pheromones from the females.

It was really hard to get a good photo of this caterpillar, because it wouldn’t stop walking. Apparently, at this time of year, they won’t stop walking. If you pick them up, they just keep walking. You try putting it on your friend’s arm to get a better shot, and they just keep walking. You try blocking it with a leaf, and it won’t stop walking.

I read that when these silkworm moth caterpillars are getting ready to make their cocoon, they stop eating, and start walking—they’re called “wanderers.” They’re looking for the right place to park for the winter and make their cocoon.

If it tries to get around you and your leaf, and falls approximately 1” off a little rock, it might stop walking and curl up defensively.

green caterpillar back

This particular brand of (fat!) caterpillar has a tendency to withdraw their heads into their fat, translucent, luminous bodies when they’re not marching ever forward. Seems to be a characteristic pose they strike. I would probably do that too, if I had folds of beautiful, neon-green, floppy soft skin.

fat green caterpillar head withdrawn
Polyphemus caterpillar head  fat green caterpillar head

When he fell approximately 1”, thanks to my pestering him with a leaf, he grabbed onto a little clump of loose moss and leaf, and didn’t let go.

Polyphemus caterpillar underside prolegs

This gave me a chance to get a passable shot of his prolegs—something I never took any notice of, until a Flickr contact posted this exquisite macro shot of them. Since I saw that image, caterpillar prolegs have become one of my most favorite things in the world. The prolegs are the dark grey and brown crazy-shaped things (note the fifth pair at the very end). Of course you can see why I’m nuts about them. Ask my friends--they'll tell you! "Oh, don't get her started on prolegs..."

The prolegs are tipped with “crochets,” little hooklets all around the edge. (In my image you can’t actually see them--they're way too tiny--they’re on the very edge of the brown bits.) The number, size, and arrangement of the crochets are used in identification. Who knew! Not me!

The six pairs of legs near his head are true legs—with joints and everything, and little claws at the end. Prolegs aren’t jointed, and have limited musculature. One source said they operate via hydraulics.

*Warning: if your supposed caterpillar has more than five pairs of prolegs (counting the ones at the very end), it is not a moth or butterfly! Run!

Anyway, rather than going on about caterpillar proleg crochets that you can’t actually see in these images, I’ll wander back to an overview of the super-cool prolegs. Of all the caterpillars I’ve seen in all my years of seeing caterpillars, I never really noticed their prolegs, which are bizarre, stumpy and wonderful. I never tire of caterpillar prolegs.

There’s also the issue of this caterpillar’s gorgeous translucence.  He really did look like a bioluminescent water balloon creature. If you click on the images to see full-sized, you can see how the light is passing through it, making him glow.

I’ve found more than one of their cocoons. I’m pretty sure whose cocoon it is, since I found one right before it hatched, and saw who was inside. Here’s one with a portion of the pupa’s exuvia still inside.

silkworm cocoon showing pupa exuvia

Well, that’s about it, really.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Summer/fall 2011, yet another drought, but still: Red-shouldered bugs!

I know it’s considered bad blogging form to apologize for a lapse in posts, but there was yet another summer/fall drought, and I kept waiting for it to end but it never did. It stopped raining. No rain = hardly any mushrooms. I lost my momentum. I kept hiking anyhow...

I even got a message from a Flickr mushroom/nature contact in Australia who noticed I hadn’t been uploading anything—she thought something had happened to me! I only know her from Flickr!

“Hello, I hope you don't mind me sending you this flickrmail... actually I'm just wondering where you are? You haven't posted anything since last October, and I hope you're ok and not terribly ill or anything. So anyway, happy new year, I hope we see you back again soon.”
Well, the past is the past, so let’s just jump back in the game! Get a load of THIS!

Red-shouldered bug on Goldenrain tree seed
Red-shouldered bug on goldenrain tree seed, late August
I was working on campus, and these bugs were all over the building and walkways for days and days. Tiny fat nymphs, breeding pairs, and everything in between, all around some goldenrain trees. At first I thought they were “just” box elder bugs, but it finally sunk in that they didn’t quite match. So I started bringing my camera in, got some photos, and did a proper ID check.

(Hi—there’s a lot of fun detail that shows up when you view these images larger, by clicking on them...)
Red-shouldered bug horiz crop
Above, Jadera haematoloma, nymphs and instars, all over Koelreuteria paniculata, just like they say they do.

They were crazy for the seeds, very active, and when disturbed (like when I suddenly loomed over them with my camera), they only ran off for a few seconds before hurrying back to eat more.

Red-shouldered bugs on goldenrain tree seedpod Red-shouldered bugs on crushed seed

So, in the course of learning about these bugs, I found out about goldenrain trees too, because just about every reference mentioned them in relation to the red-shouldered bugs, and I didn't know what tree it was anyway when I was picking up the 3-lobed seed pods and saying, “What the heck are these.” The trees are not native, they’re from Northern China, Japan & Korea, have “invasive potential”, introduced in the early 1800’s, Thomas Jefferson, blah blah.

Anyway these Red-shouldered bugs really go for goldenrain trees, and even though there can be seemingly-huge populations of them, no sources mentioned they do much actual damage. They feed on the fruits of lots of other trees, too.

Incidentally, I saw tiny white spikes on some of the seeds, which I would guess was some type of fungus...

Many red bug nymphs on seed
Above, a whole bunch of plump little nymphs on a goldenrain tree seed.

Below, more and more. I just thought they were awfully photogenic, creating really great compositions as they went about their lives.

Red-shouldered bug nymph and instars
Red-shouldered bugs on seed
If there’s tons of them around somebody’s house and there's little kids running around, and some of the bugs get squished, it can alarm parents who wonder what the heck all that red stuff is all over their kids! But they are harmless.

red-shouldered bugs on crushed goldenrain tree seed
I like the image above because you can see the insides of that one on the left! No idea what organ that is. If there’s any entomologists out there, please speak up! Really, click to view large, it's worth it.

Below, fat little nymphs and a breeding pair! Everything at once!

Red-shouldered bug nymphs and adult on seed

And finally, below, a Magritte-like composition, moody and surreal.

Seed  and bug shadows

All this just goes to show that there are fascinating tiny things everywhere.
And I will find them, and eventually show you.