Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fungus 2011

I’m beginning to wonder if the skies are going to look gray forever. We’ve been stuck in the same basic weather pattern for almost six months and the number of sunny days has been well below normal. Rains began to fall in late November and were a welcome relief from the prolonged drought we had just experienced. December and January didn’t produce large amounts of precipitation, but storm clouds were an almost constant occurrence. February rainfall jumped to above normal levels and March continued the trend. April reached 11.95 inches of rain for the month, which tied the Blue Jay Barrens record for total monthly rainfall. May has experienced six inches of rainfall so far and forecasts indicate much more to come. The normally dry soils have sustained a level of saturation that is far beyond any that I have witnessed during my experience with this property.

Prolonged wet weather favors those species that thrive in a moist environment. Many plants are exhibiting an enhanced vigor that is rarely seen. Plants are larger, blooming more profusely and in general, expressing themselves more forcefully than expected. One group of life forms that benefit most from the excessive moisture is the fungi.

What we see of the fungi are the fruiting bodies, that part of the fungus that produces the spores. Reproductive structures, like the cups formed by the Veined Cup fungus, grow quickly and require adequate moisture in order to remain hydrated through the period necessary to create and release spores. Without moisture, the fruiting bodies are not created and we don’t see the fungi.

Fungi illustrate an important principle that must be understood in order to be successful as a manager of natural biological systems. It’s necessary to identify the components of a system in order to develop an action plan for manipulating that system. The fungi that we see during a wet year have always been present, but they are normally present in their non-reproductive state which makes them exist in a condition that is outside of our normal awareness. A survey of fungi completed during a dry year could make it appear that they are lacking, but experience should tell us that we are missing something and need to make a greater effort to find the answers we seek. The same applies to plants and animals. They can be present in low numbers or in physical forms that we don’t easily recognize, but which we must consider if we are to make wise management decisions. Management plans developed using a single census of species, or even a census compiled by several visits over the same year, lack the basic information necessary to effectively manage towards specific goals. Monitoring and census of plant and animal species on a property are not only essential to the development of a management plan; they are a necessary action item within the plan itself. Proceeding with landscape manipulation without a well documented account of species present could result in an unintentional loss of critical species as well as a failure to achieve the desired goals for the project.

I’ve always associated fungi with things magical and mysterious. The ability to create an elaborate structure seemingly out of nowhere and practically overnight has got to be near the top of the list of wondrous things in the natural world. For me, fungi will continue to be a reminder of how little I know and how much I need to understand in order to successfully manipulate the landscape along a course that will bring about the special ecosystem necessary for the survival of those rare and unusual components of the natural world found at Blue Jay Barrens.


  1. With near 100 plus year old rainfall level records tied or broken , makes me wonder if some of the fungi we are seeing are very rare.Like a 17 year locust fungi!:) Have you noticed ones you've never seen before aswell? In my area I've never seen so many varieties before.

  2. make that cicadas..don't know why I call them locusts?;)

  3. I love your comment, "Management plans using a single census of species, or even a census complied by several visits over the same year, lack the basic information necessary to effectively manage towards specific goals." Those are words every conservationist should learn, love, and live.

  4. Hi, Michael. I can't say that I'm seeing any new species this year, but there are species I've only seen once or twice over the last 25 years.

    Thanks, Mel.