Friday, June 25, 2010

Life Below the Ferns

When I was growing up, I lived in many urban settings. In my mind, ferns and fungi were prime symbols of wildness and I always took the time to examine any specimens I came across. So what could be better than a place where both ferns and fungi thrive? Yesterday we saw the ferns, so today we’re going to dive beneath the fronds and look for fungi.

Once our eyes adjust to the gloom, we find that our first specimen is a Bolete type fungi called Old Man of the Woods. The spore producing portion of the Boletes is a spongy mass that is surfaced with holes or depressions. When dealing with fungi identification, it always pays to look beneath the cap.

This is an edible species, although it never looks very appealing. As it ages, it can turn really nasty. I rarely collect any fungi to eat. Usually I find so few they wouldn’t even make a good snack. I prefer to leave them alone and keep watch on their progress through the year.

The part of the fungus that we see is strictly the reproductive portion. Hidden within the soil or a decomposing log, the fungus mycelia play an important role in the soil ecology. Fungi are decomposers that break down organic material into less complex forms that can be used by other organisms. The mycelium plays an essential role in binding soil particles and distributing water and nutrients through the soil. Many soil ecosystems would collapse if fungi were removed from the mix.

This is the part that produces the spores. Millions of spores will develop in those gill structures. When ripe, the spores take to the air and are capable of traveling half way around the globe. In spite of their ability to spread spores over many continents, fungi typically require fairly specific habitats in which to grow.

Some fungi develop brilliant colors. This is a Fading Scarlet Waxy Cap, also an edible species. You would think that something that was edible wouldn’t advertise its presence like this. Maybe it’s a case of being protected by resembling an unappealing species.

1 comment:

  1. I love ferns and don't have enough of them growing on my property - something I'm going to change rapidly in the near future. Fungi, on the other hand, seems to have no issues in my back 40. :)

    I prefer my spores store bought.