urbpan: (dandelion)
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The day before Halloween we had an Urban Nature Walk at good old Mount Auburn. Among other things, we saw North America's most massive bird species.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
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I decided on a bit of a whim to do an Urban Nature Walk in Franklin Park. I took Charlie. We met one other walk participant there. I was there to find mushroom species for the Franklin Park Biodiversity Project.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
Seven Ways You Can Make Yourself Sick Eating Wild Mushrooms

This is a speech I give during mushroom walks when there’s a lull between cool discoveries. I’m doing a mushroom walk for the first time in a few months this weekend so I could use a refresher, and hey maybe you’ll like it too.

1. The mushroom was poisonous. There’s a significant number of mushroom species out there that are poisonous. You can’t necessarily tell by the way they look, taste, or smell, or by cooking them with silver spoons. The only way to tell is to positively identify the mushroom, to species or at least species complex. It’s a difficult skill that can only be developed though study and especially experience. When in doubt, throw it out.

2. The mushroom itself wasn’t poisonous but it grew somewhere that provided some poison that the fungus put in the mushroom. There are some perfectly edible mushrooms out there that become sickening when they grow on Eucalyptus or Pine. There is one case I know of where a morel hunter gave himself heavy metal poisoning by collecting and eating lots of morels that all happened to be growing in old apple orchards that had been treated with Lead Arsenate decades earlier. Some people avoid collecting mushrooms along roads or railroad tracks for fear of fuel additives and other contaminants.

3.The mushroom wasn’t poisonous until you had booze with it. There are a few kinds of mushrooms that are considered edible but when you eat them within some time after (OR BEFORE) drinking alcohol, the reaction can make you sick. The anti-alcoholic drug Antabuse works the same way. Also, alcohol is a known poison, so if you drink more than you are used to you can make yourself sick—just because you happen to throw up mushroom fragments doesn’t mean the mushrooms are the culprit. If you are trying a new wild mushroom that you have positively identified, don’t have booze at the same time.

4.You are allergic. Some people are sensitive to some species of wild mushroom that are considered edible. Don’t try more than one new wild mushroom at a time. Did I mention that it should be positively identified as an edible species yet?

5. The mushroom is too old. Imagine you found a steak or a carrot in the woods—it just has a little slimy rotten part on it, just cut it off and eat the rest right? An old mushroom is probably growing bacteria, and you have no way of knowing if it will make you sick. Eat only fresh mushrooms that you have positively identified as an edible species.

6. You ate too much. But I had three pounds of chanterelles! The dry weight of mushrooms is mostly chitin, the indigestible polysaccharide that also forms the skins of insects, the beaks of squid, and the horrible mouthparts of some parasitic worms. If you load your stomach with it, it’s as if you ate a heaping casserole of shredded newspaper. Also keep in mind that the dose is the poison—people who die from Amanita poisoning usually ate a ton of them. Survivors report that they taste good. There are some edible Amanitas, but I will never eat them, why chance it?

7. You didn’t cook it long enough. Some cultures call certain mushroom species edible—but only when they are cooked. I avoid these. Remember the chitin? The longer you cook it the more digestible it becomes. Chicken mushroom (Laetiporus sp.) is a highly prized edible—I lightly sautéed some because I didn’t want to lose the chicken-like texture, and got made myself real sick. If you are going to collect wild mushrooms for food, get a reputable guide—something made of paper, not some weirdo’s web page—and follow the most timid instructions. I should have cooked the Chicken mushroom for at least 20 minutes at high temperature. Now I know.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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This summer has been unusually dry--we've had something like 2 inches of rain the entire summer (we average over 3 inches per month). As a mushroom guy, I've found it quite depressing. One day I woke up and the yard was a bit damp. I quickly moved from place to place to try to find live revived by the moisture. This may be Mycena corticola.

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The north facing side of the shingle roof of our shed is thickly decorated with British soldier lichen.

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A nearly hexagonal raft of infinitesimal bubbles on our bird bath.

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Ants in general don't seem to be suffering in the drought, at least it seems many species are doing fine.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Without a daily blog project I've been letting photos build up a long time: these are from a walk we went on in the Stony Brook Reservation on July 8th. This is one of the only mushrooms I've seen all summer.

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Not far away, feeding on the sugars shared between tree and fungus, are a group of ghost flowers, or monotrope.

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These parasites need no chlorophyll, so dot the forest with ghostly white instead of green.

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A distant relative in the same family, striped Pipsissewa is found from Canada to Panama, but is endangered across some of its range.

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The plant is sometimes called striped wintergreen, or more confusingly, spotted wintergreen. Some government agencies have taken to calling it "striped Prince's Pine" in the misguided idea that this is somehow less confusing.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) is a surprising sight for most people who don't expect to see a cactus in New England. This plant seemed abundant on this Cape Cod visit, but is state listed as Endangered.

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Considering the long dry period we've been experiencing this summer, the last thing I expected to see was mushrooms. Instead I was greeted with these fresh but very sturdy polypores--in fact a species I had never seen before, Cryptoporus volvatus, produced by a fungus that feeds on dead conifer wood.

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I don't have an identification for this dragonfly, but I could tell she was female, because she kept dipping the end of her abdomen into the water--a sign that she was releasing eggs.

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And on a little black cherry tree, these fingerlike projections are galls that protect minuscule Eriophyes mites.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Ever since I got a digital pentax slr I've had my eye on a particular macro lens. It's not even made by pentax, but it is prohibitively expensive: in the four to five hundred dollar range on Amazon, whenever I check. I checked eBay randomly a week ago, and found it for $275. I thought about what I really like to take pictures of--bugs and mushrroms--and how I've spent a lot of time and money trying to find a reasonably priced way to do it. I bought the lens. Here is the first photo I took with it, a strawberry in our garden.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
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Needham is a small mostly residential town next to the one I live in, in eastern Massachusetts. I don't go there much, except to Cutler Park, a big boardwalked swamp that's fun to visit. To be fair, I haven't been to a big boardwalked swamp that WASN'T insanely fun in my opinion, and I've been to a few. I noticed that in addition to Cutler, there was another parcel of public land in the town, designated Needham Town Forest. When my dad drove up for the day, we went there. It was a very unusual Town Forest in many ways.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
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I haven't dumped the pics from one of my since January. Here are some winter shots. First, Exidia recisa, one of the few mushrooms of winter, here shown slightly frozen.

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Some moss, carefully manicured in the cracks between some sidewalk slabs.

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One of the urban field markings of European beech is that it usually bears some graffiti. Usually it's initials carved in the smooth bark, so this is a nice variant.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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My dad and I went for a walk in the Arboretum and came across this little bloom of mushrooms sharing space with some garlic mustard. I'm guessing these mushrooms are Hypholoma sublateritium .
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Nature walk participant Keith pointed them out to me. "Fairy pins!" he said. I suddenly wished I had my reading glasses with me. With the naked eye I could see only the greenish white surface of the Trichaptum biforme*, a superabundant thin polypore mushroom. But through the loupe (good thing for a naturalist to carry) I could see the miniscule burnt matchsticks of Phaeocalicium polyporaeum.** These tiny mushrooms are the fruiting body of a fungus that parasitizes the Trichaptum biforme.
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*Double-formed, bound in hairs

**Dark buds of polypore
urbpan: (dandelion)
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"What are those mushrooms?" the nature walk participant asked, pointing way above our heads at some semicircular brackets. I peered up helplessly. Then I found these mushrooms. "Well, if they are the same as these here..." But who knows if they were. These are Daedalopsis confragosa*, a polypore caught in the act of evolving toward having gills. Gills, or lamellae, are apparently a very efficient way for a mushroom to maximize its spore-production surface area. Gill-like structures have evolved independently at least 4 times in mushrooms. In this species, the pores are elongated, changing what would be tubes into channels lined with spore-producing cells.

*Rough, resembling Daedalus (creator of the labyrinth)
urbpan: (dandelion)
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This lone elbiem (little brown mushroom) went unidentified during our most recent Urban Nature Walk in Waltham. I suspect it's related to either Xeromphalina or Marasmius mushrooms.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I really wish I had taken a better picture of this, my favorite Ascomycete. (Ascomycota is the smaller of the two main divisions of mushrooms; most mushrooms you can think of are Basidiomycetes; morels, cup fungi and most lichenized fungi are Ascos; the main difference is the shape of the spore-producing cells.) The green stain cup Chlorociboria aeruginascens* not only produces a blue-green fruiting body, but its mycelium stains its wooden substrate the same color. Often you might come by a chunk of dead wood stained this color, but I consider it a special occasion to come across one putting out mushrooms. It's fun to be reminded how rare shades of blue are among living things.

*Green cup becoming blue green

Tread marks

Dec. 4th, 2015 06:45 pm
urbpan: (dandelion)
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The marks on the surface of this tinder polypore Fomes fomentarius are the slow deliberate strokes of a mollusk's tongue. The mineralized end of a radula--the feeding instrument of snails and slugs--swiped across, scraping material into the gastropod's mouth.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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The rubbery brown cauliflower-like thing you see is the fruiting body of the Tremella foliacea* fungus. I am not sure that I had seen it before encountering it multiple times last Sunday on the Urban Nature Walk. The fungus is a parasite that feeds on another fungus.

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You can see the mushroom of the parasite surrounded by the mushroom of the host. The little orangish mushrooms belong to Stereum hirsutum**, a very common wood-digesting fungus. Like VERY common--I could find it anywhere there are trees if you gave me 5 minutes. So why haven't I seen the parasite before? Dunno, but now that I'm aware of it, I bet you I'll see it all the time. Mushrooms have a way of hiding in plain sight, waiting for you to realize they were there all along.

*Trembling foliage

**Hairy and hard (Oh grow up)
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Exidia recisa* is one of those species I use to test out field guides. This gelatinous mushroom is exceedingly common, especially after windy and wet weather when the dead twigs it feeds on are blown down from the trees. Conspicuous and interesting, any decent guide to temperate mushrooms should include it. It is one of the few species that can produce spores in the winter: the mushroom can dry up and revive repeatedly, depending on how wet conditions are. This allows the fungus to attempt reproduction at a time when their are few others competing for resources.

*Exuding and cut back
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Most mushrooms become unrecognizable once they have released their spores and begun to rot. Bacteria and fungi invade the mushroom and reduce it to a withered husk or a pile of goo. These hemlock reishi mushrooms Ganoderma tsugae* are very durable, and still identifiable by their color and structure, and by the fact that they are growing from dead hemlock trees.
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* Shiny skin on hemlock
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Almost identical to the gem-studded puffball, but smoother and with a greater taste for wood, is the pear-shaped puffball Lycoperdon pyriforme*. It's generally found as seen here, in its hundreds on a big fallen tree. These are at peak puffability, with large open pores at the center already discharging spores.

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* Pear-shaped wolf fart.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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When I was a child I loved nothing more than to find a puffball ready to be stomped on. It had to be an old one, the outer skin turned leathery, maybe with a hole already formed at the top. Now I gently poke the skin rather than stomp the mushroom. The fungus doesn't care either way--no matter which method, the spores will be spread. This fresh beauty is called the gem-studded puffball Lycoperdon perlatum.*

*Everpresent wolf fart


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