See what’s happening on the grounds of the Ames Free Library or nearby areas with “A Glimpse of Nature.” Offered by Lorraine Rubinacci, the library's resident naturalist, this weekly photo blog is a gentle reminder to enjoy the wonders that surround us.
A Glimpse of Nature - "A Woodland Rainbow"
Although the Ames Free Library’s property is not the most suitable habitat, I can’t ignore a very obvious natural occurrence: It’s the height of mushroom season! And, it is, in my opinion, the best season in a long while. Last year, when I was planning a Stepping Out nature film on the subject, the pickings were very slim indeed. The only time that I saw a decent variety of species was during a weekend trip to the Northern Berkshires where the drought had been less severe.
The underground part of a fungus, the mycelium, waits for the right conditions before producing its fruiting bodies, the parts that we call mushrooms. Water is essential to this process, for, despite their solid appearance, mushrooms often contain 80 to 90% water. That is why this year’s abundant summer rains have made a huge difference. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s online weather data for the Boston area, just 5.2 inches of rain fell during July, August and September 2020. During those same months this year, 24.54 inches fell. Yes, nearly five times as much precipitation fell on us and the fungi! The consequence of this is a cornucopia of woodland mushrooms.
The fungus kingdom is such an enormous topic that it feels absurd to even introduce it in a short blog post. Neither plant nor animal, fungi have ancient origins, dwelling on earth for perhaps “a billion years.” Inconspicuous when not fruiting and difficult to classify by observable features, fungi remain mysterious. In all likelihood, humans have not discovered the vast majority of earth’s fungal species. A study from 2019 quoted in Wikipedia “estimated that more than 90% of fungi remain unknown.” Yet their importance cannot be overstated. They are among earth’s major decomposers, transforming organic matter -- such as leaf litter, dead wood, and animal carcases -- into a form that plants can utilize. What’s more, mycorrhizal fungi form symbiotic relationships with plants that improve the plant’s survival by increasing access to nutrients. And, of course, fungi play a role in the lives of animals including humans: sometimes as pathogens, but also as food, and in leavening, fermentation, medicine, pesticides, and industry.
Like many foragers, I enjoy eating wild mushrooms when I can confidently identify the species, but what really gives me joy is to witness the amazing diversity of these life forms: fragile to hefty, archetypal to bizarre, and in every color of the rainbow. Here’s a sampling of recent observations:
This post introduces the general topic. In the coming months, we will return to fungi. I will guide you to make more detailed observations and offer some background on their anatomy and ecological importance. For today, my goal is simple: to urge you to get outside and notice them, on every walk and up close; from above and below; on the ground, on living trees, on logs, and in sand pits, manure piles, lawns, and bark mulch. Look for capped stalks but also for unusual growths that might become new fungal friends. Notice what grows around them and, at night, read one of the books listed below. Soon you’ll be delighted that fall has arrived.
At the Library
by Alan Bessette
*This item can be found in the Commonwealth Catalog
by Merlin Sheldrake
by D.L. Hawksworth; Illustrator Katie Scott