Surprise! We have mushrooms in November
Walking in the AutWin (autumn-winter) woods continues to be a delight. This interlude between the leaf drop of October and the coming snow cover is such a terrific time to see things among the bare and bland-looking trees of the forests. Squirrels and chipmunks are actively gathering food for the coming cold. Migrant flocks of tree sparrows, juncos and snow buntings (in the more open sites) feed on seeds. A flock of robins is in the crabapples. Non-migrant chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers are easy to see in this scene. And so are the red berries and fruits of crabapples, highbush cranberries, mountain ash and winterberry holly. It's a cold time for insects but a couple of moths, adults and immatures, are also here. Late-season basswood looper moths and fall cankerworm moths flit about. On the ground, the two-toned woolly bear caterpillars seek sites for their long sleep.
The forests have much more to show the woods-wanderers at this time. During recent weeks I have noted the abundance of green plants still here. Mosses cling to rocks, downed logs and the base of nearly every tree. Clubmosses, also known as Lycopodium and princess pines, looking like miniature evergreen trees, show up on the forest floor at more sites than we may expect. Wood ferns are still green when other ferns have faded. We also can see how many conifer trees are mixed with the deciduous trees in the regional forests. And lichens cover the trunks and branches of these trees in a large variety of kinds.
These growths are a testimony to the clean air that we live with. All of these are what I expect to see during an AutWin walk every year, but this year I saw more than the usual. I have been a bit surprised by finding several kinds of mushrooms.
Temperatures were mild last month, ending with rains during the second half of October. The woods soil is unfrozen with plenty of decay in the leaves. So the mushroom season, which I thought ended in October, has been prolonged into these days of November. Usually we expect to see ice and snow on the forest floor by now, not mushrooms, but the fascinating fungi were here.
It started as I passed by a growth of shaggy mane mushrooms recently. These tall fungi, nearly 8 inches high, are frequent in the fall. As a type of Coprinus, we may see them in lawns often in autumn, but not this late.
However, this growth was not the only fungus out now. Within the next few days I also found several honey mushrooms on the forest floor and at the base of a maple stump. An oak nearby held an impressive white oyster fungus. Again, these fungi are not that unusual in fall, but unexpected in November. I went for a forest fungi search.
In the woods many shelf fungi stick out from trees, puffballs cover logs and jelly fungi hang onto twigs where they can absorb moisture. Once again, these were not different from the norm. But as I continued to walk, I found more that were unexpected. During a single woods-walk last week, I discovered kinds of mushrooms far from the usual. Here I noted several that are more associated with the forest floor of late summer. Along the trail, I spotted two kinds of mushrooms, a brown Marasmius and a yellow Hygrocybe (waxy cap). Both are common but normally seen in August or September. Both were a surprise.
But the biggest shock came as I continued on the trail and stopped abruptly when I found a growth of yellow-gold chanterelles. Looking closer, I saw that several were here. These mushrooms differ from most of their kind by not really having gills under the cap. Instead, folds of skin are here and appear to be gills. I was quite surprised to see these since they are more likely to be found in September or earlier. (I have seen chanterelles in July.)
But there was more. Nearby was a growth of lobster fungus (Hypomyces). An orange-red mold grows on a mushroom, usually a kind of Russula, to form these strange fungal conditions among the dead leaves. Again, they are fairly common in the woods, but usually in late summer. Both of these are considered choice fungal foods by those who gather such growths.
I'm sure that my mushroom discoveries in November were not the only ones in the Northland at this time. The mild conditions of this month have extended the days of AutWin and the season of mushroom growth for this year.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.