Straw Hats Go on a Mushroom Walk
Rutgers Gardens sponsored a"Mushroom Walk" for their volunteers today. The Straw Hat Society, which is interested in all things botanical, eagerly joined the group on a perfect fall day.
Helyar Woods, where part of the walk was to take place, was just beginning to show its autumn colors.
The weather was cold and windy so we had to forsake our signature headgear and use our hoods instead. Can you spot the Hatters in the picture below?
Here's a hint: A was wearing blue and the Head Hatter was in red. Unintentionally completing the patriotic theme, yours truly (behind the camera) was wearing white!
The walk started in the Display Gardens where we were introduced to Stinkhorn Mushrooms.
I'm not quite sure what happened to the color in that picture, but the mushroom looked and smelled like cooked seafood. Moving on to the Rhododendron and Azalea Garden, we saw Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms at the base of a tree.
Moving further into that garden, we encountered a larger (and smellier!) type of Stinkhorn mushroom. The size and shape elicited much merriment and quite a few off-color jokes.
Unfortunately, I didn't have a ruler with me nor did I know any of the men in our group well enough to ask one of them to provide proper scale.
We saw quite a few colorful mushrooms. My favorite was the Turkey Tail mushroom, so-called because its shape and coloring strongly resembles the tail of a turkey.
Much prettier than the white ones that you usually see, don't you think?
We also learned that they can grow in a spiral pattern around the dead wood:
There's even a yellow kind!
We moved on through the Native Plant Garden where we saw a beautiful clump of River Birch.
Isn't the bark fabulous? I just love this little bridge:
That's the only reason I'm including this picture. Just because I like it. It has nothing to do with mushrooms. We continued on to Helyar Woods where we found another colorful mushroom:
We learned that mushrooms have various textures. This one was leathery:
This one crumbles at the slightest touch:
In fact, that is one of its identifying characteristics. Here's one that is so fragile that it is translucent:
Size is no indicator of toxicity. This enormous mushroom is quite benign.
But this cute little one is poisonous!
Perhaps the most interesting mushroom we encountered didn't look like a mushroom at all. It is like a jelly and is similar to one used on Chinese soups.
It has no flavor. It is used strictly to provide texture to the soup.
Pretty soon we were seeing mushrooms everywhere we looked.
The most important thing we learned about mushrooms is the critical role they play in the forest ecology. Fungi breaks down the dead wood, bark and leaves, returning them to the soil. Without them, we would be buried in dead plant material.
Here is a good example:
The mushrooms have done such a good job decomposing this branch that ferns have already begun to take root and grow.
So, the next time you stroll through the woods, take a closer look (and a closer sniff!). You may be surprised at what you find.