Shaggy Mane

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I saw this fungi while visiting Hinckley Reservation, also occasionally known as the Lawyers Wig, this is a distinctive and simple to recognize mushroom. It’s size, texture and shape make it easy to spot even from considerable distance. They are often seen growing on lawns, along gravel roads and waste areas in Summer and Fall. They may grow singly or scattered, but are often in large, tightly packed groups.

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Shaggy Mane has an elongated, bullet-shaped, shaggy cap, with brownish upturned scales and a straight fairly smooth stem. The white caps are covered with frilled scales, creating the origin of the common name of this fungus.

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This mushroom is known for its unique robust flavor. Shaggy Manes can also be used for dyeing wool, some types of fabric, or paper and will yield a bayberry color when cooked in an iron pot.

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Mushrooms and other fungi are one of the most important groups of organisms on the planet. This is easy to overlook, given that most of the organism is largely hidden. The fruiting body (mushroom) is all you see of a vast network of thread-like structures hidden from view deep the soil, wood or other food sources.

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Fungi, together with bacteria, are responsible for most of the recycling that returns dead material to the soil in a form in which it can be reused. Unlike animals, that digest food inside their bodies, fungi digest food outside of their “bodies” and then absorb the nutrients into their cells.

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Yellow Dog Vomit Slime Mold

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While hiking through a damp, dark forest in Maryland, I noticed some bright coloration on a log. Also known as Scrambled Egg Slime, because of its peculiar yellow appearance, it often appears suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere.

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This is common species with a worldwide distribution. In non-natural areas, it is often found on bark mulch or in lawns after heavy rain or excessive watering. Slime molds are most often found in moist, shady areas with abundant organic matter, such as dead leaves and wood.

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Though it is often referred to as a fungus, slime molds are now thought to be a different type of primitive organism and more closely related to amoebas and certain seaweeds than fungi. They derive nourishment from decaying organic materials, and will not attack living plants.

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The ecological role in nature of slime mold is to break down dead materials to recycle the nutrients for other species to utilize. Although some people may be alarmed, grossed out, or frightened by it, this slime mold is harmless to plants, pets and humans.

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Yellow Dog Vomit Slime Mold is without a doubt is one of nature’s interesting oddities.

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Reindeer Lichen

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Although I’ve encountered this lichen occasionally on my travels, while visiting Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Maryland, I saw quite a bit of it.

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Lichens are “dual organisms,” made by mutualistic associations between fungi and algae. They grow in some inhospitable environments – on rocks, trees and man-made objects – yet they are very sensitive to air pollution and are natural indicators of air quality.

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These organisms are important to the environment because they break down rocks into soil and they help to stabilize soil that’s already there. There are several different species known as “Reindeer Lichen” and this is Grey Reindeer Lichen, which is also known as True Reindeer Lichen.

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It features hollow intricate branches coming out its main stem. The branches have a dull, cotton-like look and feel. Grey Reindeer Lichen can form extensive carpets over the ground in open pine forests, especially on sandy soils and in open areas.

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This organism has a range extending into the tundra and is a important food source for Caribou. Reindeer Lichens grow slowly and mature clumps are often around 100 years old.

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Morel Mushroom

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Morels are one of the most desired wild mushrooms in the world. They are not farmed like most grocery store mushrooms, but instead gathered in the wild.

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Their most identifiable characteristic is what’s typically described as a honeycomb-like exterior. I saw a few of these distinctive fungi recently while in Carter County, Kentucky.

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Despite their popularity as a food item, relatively little is known about this particular fungal complex or its lifestyle in the wild. What we call mushrooms are actually just the fruiting body of the organism.

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Most of a mushroom is threadlike like fine roots, and branches and burrows extensively through the soil or wood in a manner similar to the roots of plants.

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The roots (called a mycelium) spread underground for an indeterminate length of time – perhaps months or even several years – before they store enough food to produce a fruiting body – the actual mushroom.

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In the United States Morel Mushroom season generally lasts for about three weeks in April, which adds to the craze for mushroom hunters, as this delicacy can only be obtained for a limited time.

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British Soldier Lichen

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This is a common and easy to identify lichen, found throughout the northeastern United States and into Canada. I encountered it while visiting Carter Caves, Kentucky.

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The little red fruiting structure of the lichens resemble the red hats worn by invading British troops during the American Revolutionary War; they give this lichen its common name.

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This composite organism is a mutualistic association between a fungus and green alga. In theory, the fungus receives sugars from the photosynthetic activities of the alga, while the alga receives some minerals and a safe place to live from the fungus.

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British Soldier Lichen prefers to grow on rotting wood and these examples were on decayinging wooden posts. It also is often found at the base of old tree stumps.

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These are among the most colorful of all lichens. Their bright red caps don’t form until the organism is at least 4 years old. They are extremely slow growing, only gaining 1-2 millimeters a year.

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“Back in the day” British Soldier Lichens were used to create pink dye for wool. These days it is often a colorful addition to terrariums.

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Fragrant Bracket Fungus

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While on a hike in Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve, I noticed a fair number of these white organisms.

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Looking at its Latin Name, Trametes suaveolens, Trametes means “one who is thin,” while suaveolens means “sweet-smelling” in reference to the anise scent of fresh specimens.

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It is found mainly on living or dead broad-leaved trees – usually Poplar and Willow. This fungi is known as a polypore; a type that forms fruiting bodies with pores or tubes on the underside.

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Most polypores inhabit tree trunks or branches while consuming the wood. They play a very significant role in nutrient cycling and carbon dioxide production of forest ecosystems.

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Bracket Fungus is also known as Shelf Fungus, because they produce shelf- or bracket-shaped fruiting bodies called conks. Most of the fungus is hidden from view within the body of the tree and it consists of an extensive network of filamentous threads.

Seeing these fungi on an otherwise dreary day added some brightness to the woodland environment where they reside.

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Orange Mycena

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In the dark, damp swamps of southern Illinois, this fun fungus really stands out. Its bright orange coloration can be noticed from a distance.

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Though their caps are rather small (usually less than an inch), because they are typically found in clusters, Orange Mycena make for an eye-catching addition to the environment.

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This mushroom tends to grow on deciduous logs, which contain the moisture it needs to thrive. When handled, its orange pigment may stain your skin.

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Their brilliant hue fades as the mushrooms mature and the surface of the caps are sticky, especially in damp situations.

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Orange Mycena is a North American species and has been reported throughout the eastern and central United States and Canada.

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This striking and colorful mushroom provides the same service as many others – breaking down and digesting organic matter and in doing so, returning nutrients to the soil.

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Brown Russula

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While hiking in Hinckley Reservation, it was hard not to notice this large-capped mushroom that in some cases seemed to be turning itself inside-out.

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Not only is it interesting looking, this organism has a waxy, benzaldehyde odor, kind of like a maraschino cherry.

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These, like many fungi, are mycorrhizal, meaning they have are a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with plants. The mushroom has fibers that surround a tree rootlets.

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The mushroom fiber’s helps the tree absorb water and nutrients while the tree provides sugars and amino acids to the mushroom. It is estimated that about 85% of plants depend on mycorrhizal relationships with fungi.

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Brown Russula’s 4-inch cap becomes broadly convex or flat, and sometimes even gets a shallow central depression (in this case holding water).

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This was a fun fungi find on a summertime walk through the woods.

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Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom

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While visiting southern Illinois, it was hard not to notice this organism that often produces its fruiting bodies in abundance this time of year in large clusters on old rotting stumps of hardwood trees.

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It may get its name bacause it’s bright orange, like the pumpkins used to make Jack-O-Lanterns. However, there’s another reason for its common name. This fungus actually glows in the dark! Not the whole fungus, but just the gills on the underside of the mushroom.

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The yellow-orange to orange cap is first convex in shape, becoming flat and then finally funnel-shaped with a margin that turns downward.

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To further add to the Halloween image, Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms are a trick, not a treat. People sometimes eat Jack O’Lanterns thinking they are Chanterelles, which are edible. The two types of mushroom can look pretty similar, and they bloom at the same time, but unlike Chanterelles, these are distasteful.

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Eating a Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom won’t kill you. Nevertheless, it’s nice to look at, cool because it glows in the dark and useful because it performs a valuable function that only fungus can do, which is break down dead wood into useable components to be recycled into the forest.

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Hapalopilus croceus

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While hiking in the Cuyahoga River Valley, I noticed the orange glow of Hapalopilus croceus (this fungus has no common name) displaying its brilliant color.

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I have never encountered (or heard of) this organism before, so it was an unexpected find. This is a rather uncommon fungus found in Asia, Europe, Oceania, and North America. Hapalopilus croceus is nationally red-listed (threatened) in 11 European countries.

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When fresh, this mushroom has a vibrant orange color, but it tends to fade or brown with age. This conspicuous wood-inhabiting fungus has habitat confined to wooded meadows and pastures.

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The stalkless, broadly attached, fan-shaped fruiting body has a colorful cap and grows on decaying broadleaf wood, especially fallen Oaks.

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Like its polypore relatives, Hapalopilus croceus contributes a crucial role in nature’s continuous rebirth, by breaking down dead wood and turning it into useful nutrients.

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Fungi digest their food outside their bodies by releasing enzymes into the surrounding environment and converting organic matter into a form they can absorb; nothing else is able to perform the function of reducing dead wood back down into soil.

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