Coral fungi show beginning of mushroom time
Along with the heat, July gives us a whole new batch of wild flowers. Many grow on the roadsides amid the diverse group that was in bloom during the weeks of June. While lots of the June flowers are non-native, some of the obvious ones of July are native. During my walks and bike rides in the last 10 days, I noted the beginning of flowering with these delightful summer flowers. And as we exited June, I found yellow black-eyed susans and oxeyes (a kind of sunflower) along with night-blooming evening primroses — all flowering at the trail's edge. Here, too, I saw whites of dogbanes, the huge cow parsnips and water hemlocks. But the two that I welcome the most each summer are purple milkweeds and fireweeds. These plants are not related to each other, but both appear with similar-colored flowers at this time. (It is unfortunate that milkweed and fireweed both have the "weed" suffix. Both are native, not noxious weeds and I appreciate each one.
July is also berries, and the red elderberries that began this season are being followed by those of strawberries, early raspberries, pin cherries and blueberries a bit later. Now is not only when the plants show the product of their growing, so do the animals. It is at this time, we see the young birds leaving the nests. The nestlings have grown too large for their home and so they move out, becoming fledglings. They may be spotted and with different feather attire than the adults, these youths are still dependent on the parents, often following the older birds and begging for meals. In a similar manner, we may see and hear the young of raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes during these July days and nights. And in the ponds, the results of the calling and breeding back in May are growing on their own. July is when many of the youth of the spring frogs and toads go on to their next phase. As tadpoles of the last several weeks, they may have looked and acted much like fish as they fed and grew in the water. Now, we'll see critters with legs and an ever-diminishing tails as they prepare to metamorphose and emerge on land. And in the woods, we may note another growing time has arrived for the mushrooms and other fungi.
Walking in the woods regularly from early spring, right after the snow melt, until now, I have seen quite a progression. Before the leaves developed on the tree canopy, light penetrated to the forest floor and this site responded with a large and diverse growth of wild flowers. These thrived in the sunlight, but faded in the shade. Walking in these shady conditions became quite different during the last month. Escorted by the latest batch of mosquitoes, I noted the abundant ferns that thrive here, a few shade-tolerant flowers and now the early mushrooms.
Various fungi have been in the forests for a few weeks already and I found the huge and colorful orange-yellow sulphur shelf (also called chicken-of-the-woods) and nearby, the large white oyster fungi hanging on to logs and trees. Thanks to June rains and warmer temperatures, the fungi diversity will continue. Just as the flowers of July showed up on schedule, so do the early fungi. Following the rains of late June, I walked in the stillness of the damp woods. Here on a downed log (often a great site for fungi), I found a cluster of coral fungi. This light brown growth that took on the appearance of a small shrub or bush was standing on the log, growing maybe 4 inches tall. Though I think of coral fungi looking like small bushes, shrubs or trees, someone also thought this growth appeared to be like oceanic coral, hence the name. Though tree-shaped and branched, coral fungus is closely related to mushrooms; many of which have an "umbrella" shape. Spores, the tiny reproductive structures, are formed in a similar manner on coral fungi, despite the different shape.
The coral growths that I found on several fallen and rotting logs in the woods were light brown, but this strange-looking fungus can also be yellow, gold and I have even seen purple ones. A somewhat similar growth; false coral, looking like fingers up from the ground, is out here, too. And as I continued my walks, I found some other mushrooms; reddish Russula, brown and gray Marasmius and Mycena and an orange Hygrocybe. (Unfortunately, many mushrooms are known only by their Latin or scientific names.) I suspect there will be many more soon.
Like other fungi, mushrooms are opportunists and take advantage of the proper conditions; enough moisture and mild temperatures, for growth. If the moisture and temperatures continue, and there are plenty of rotting logs, leaves and soil, the mushrooms and other fungi will continue to proliferate in the woods for the next couple of months; and it begins now, in July, with the corals.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.