Published September 02, 2012, 06:47 AM

Northland Nature: Unique mushrooms add much to the September woods

Though still warm and summer-like, the month of September, a month we equate with fall, is upon us. The temperatures may not always reflect it, but the days continue to get shorter.

Though still warm and summer-like, the month of September, a month we equate with fall, is upon us. The temperatures may not always reflect it, but the days continue to get shorter.

Next week we will mark thirteen hours of daylight. And we quickly move towards the autumnal equinox in just three weeks.

Many are the responses to the beginning of this new season that greets us now. Garden produce and ripe apples may be in our yards and here, too, we will see summer flowers fading. Migrants of various kinds are in the region as well.

Along roads, it is not unusual to scare up flickers from the ground.

These woodpeckers, about the size of robins (also gathering in flocks), are brown but in flight, reveal a white rump patch.

Here, too, we might see groups of sparrows, and maybe glimpse some raptors that pass over on these days.

In the roadside plants, the insects that called so much this summer are slowing down. Besides walking on the roads, I find a walk in the woods in early September a true delight.

Among the trees, the season is advancing. Perhaps we are having an earlier leaf color this year: I see yellows

already on the trees of birch, poplar, hazel, basswood and cherry.

Some ferns and some other plants add this color from near the forest floor. Warbler waves pass among the changing leaves, while squirrels and chipmunks gather some food for storage in caches that will sustain them in the coming cold months. Though these small rodents mostly choose acorns and hazelnuts, they are not beyond taking other foods.

Recently, I found a mushroom placed on a branch of a tree. Fungi will frequently grow in such a setting, but this one was put here by a squirrel — a convenient site for drying the mushroom so that it can be stored and consumed later. The squirrel was taking advantage of what was available, and early September is also mushroom time.

It is an unusual walk now to even go through my yard without seeing a few kinds of mushrooms.

A typical mushroom is made up of three parts that we see above the ground. A stem reaches up from the soil and holds a cap in an “umbrella” fashion, under which are a series of lines that make up the gills.

These gills have nothing to do with breathing, but instead are the site of the reproductive cells, the spores. Since most of this fungal growth is underground in the form of thread-like mycelia, the whole purpose of this mushroom part is to reproduce. Picking a mushroom does not hurt the subsurface mycelia at all.

Caps on these gilled mushrooms vary greatly in color. As I walk through the yard and the woods beyond, I’ll find many with red caps and white stems (a common mushroom called Russula); others are all red, but also brown, white, gray, yellow, purple and even green. Nearly all have gills beneath the cap, but with variable fungi other types are here.

In the vicinity of pine trees, I find some with yellow caps, but no gills below. Instead, these similar-shaped mushrooms have tiny holes called pores. This group, often called boletes, is also quite diverse, and while this one is yellow, another near deciduous trees is brown and scaly.

But the one that catches my eye the most at this time is a drab brown-tan porous mushroom. This is quite a find. I have discovered a blue-staining bolete.

Standing only four inches tall and with nondescript colors, this fungus is not very showy. It would be easy to pass it by. But its unique feature is what it can do.

The inside of a mushroom is called its flesh and this mushroom’s flesh is white. However, when broken open and exposed to the nearby air, the white flesh instantly, within seconds, will turn blue!

Anyone seeing such a demonstration of fungal fascination will be quite impressed. Apparently, the chemicals of the mushroom unite rapidly with oxygen in the air to form this blue color: easy to see, but why it happens remains something of a mystery.

Whether changing color or not, mushrooms and other fungi will continue to be with us throughout this month. And if we get proper moisture, they will flourish and continue to enrich our fall woods walks.

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com.

Tags: