Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Forest Floor Fungi at the Frink Center

Late summer is upon us, the season when many fungus species produce their colorful and often peculiar fruiting bodies. Before moving on to the fungi let's take a moment to look at a couple of the Frink Center's amphibians.

We found not one but two Blue-spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma laterale) hiding in the moist soil and leaves under some old fallen trees. While this appears to be a Blue-spotted Salamander to the unaided eye, it's also possible that these are Jefferson Salamanders (Ambystoma jeffersonianum); the two species form a "complex", often interbreeding and producing polyploid hybrids to further confuse the amateur naturalist. In any event it seems that the Jefferson Salamander is considered a species at risk.

Despite its being common and having a broad distribution in North America, this is my first encounter with a Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica) since taking up photography. This small amphibian's cryptic colors help conceal it against the background of dead leaves and branches on the forest floor.

On the other hand the colors of Waxcaps (Hygrocybe sp.) are anything but drab. I don't have enough experience with fungi to identify the species from these images. A good site for researching fungi is MushroomExpert.Com.

Another species of Hygrocybe; I'm going to hazard a guess at Yellow Waxcap (Hygrocybe flavescens).

Green Leptonias (Leptonia incana) add a touch of vibrant yellow-green to the woodland floor palette.

Fungi come in an endless variety of colors like this beautiful Two-colored Bolete (Boletus bicolor) ...

... and Red-banded Polypore (Fomitopsis pinicola).

Of course not all fungi live on or under the woodland floor as the title might suggest. Many are saprophytes and can be found growing on decaying trees or logs such as the Clitocybula ocula.

Working in tandem with bacteria, fungi recycle the constant rain of debris falling from the trees. Cellulose and lignin are extremely tough, bracket fungi such as Trametes pubescens break down such chemicals.

Most plants, indeed, the majority, have another even more vital relationship with fungi which live symbiotically on the host plant's roots. Called mycorrhizae ("fungus" + "roots"), the fungi help the tree absorb nutrients and receive food in exchange. And some fungi are neither benign nor beneficial from our perspective, parasitising living trees, crops, other fungi, just about anything alive including humans, having no regard for our position as the top predator on this planet.

Fungi come in all kinds of fascinating shapes, as this Crown-tipped Coral Fungus (Clavicorona pyxidata) illustrates.

The little orange balls on the log are Wolf's milk (Lycogala epidendrum), a species of slime mold. Slime molds are unusual organisms with an interesting life cycle and don't fit neatly into our system of classification ... are they protozoa (animals)? Plants? Fungi? None of the above?

Stemonitis axifera, another slime mold.

Regardless of how many times one walks the local woods and trails there's always something new to see and learn. These eye-catching Yellow Water Lily (Nuphar lutea) rhizomes resemble the fallen trunks of prehistoric tree ferns. I wonder how many years it took for them to attain this size?

The fruit of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit will turn bright red as it ripens.

And what might this be? Fungus? Slime Mold? Immature slugs or insect larvae? Working together these organisms had stripped one side of several oak leaves to the veins. These weird little things are the larvae of the Oak Sawfly (Caliroa sp.), a species of wasp.

Elinor, thanks for the company on this jaunt into the untamed wilderness and wetlands of the Frink Center. It was fun, as always.