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Published July 30, 2009, 07:46 PM

Northland Nature: July mushrooms and coral fungus among us

The recent rains gave the Northland's nature expert a couple new things to look at while out and about.

By: Larry Weber, Budgeteer News

Thanks to recent rains, the second half of July was wetter than normal and the earlier long spell of dryness seems to have been forgotten. The effect of this rain has been quite noticeable: Lawns and fields that appeared brown at mid-month are now wearing the green apparel that we expect at this time.

As an avid berry picker, I was concerned that the raspberries and Juneberries that were developing in the arid days would not form into tasty, juicy treats as usual.

The rain came just in time, so I have been able to gather loads of berries that provided the expected satisfaction. I now look forward to a full blackberry crop that will be reaching maturity later in the summer. But the moisture has helped much more than the berries.

Roadside plants are flourishing and I have reveled at the sight of thick growths of fireweed and milkweed in bloom. Early goldenrods add yellow to the scene and I’ve even noticed the first aster, a flattop aster, with a head of white blossoms.

In the woods, the rain has revealed other growths. The strange white plant, Indian pipe, sticks up from the leaf litter. Scattered about the shaded sites, mushrooms and other fungi show that their season has begun.

I look for the first of the mushrooms in late July every year, but, with the lack of rain this year, I was not so sure I’d see any. These mysterious growths need wet conditions to thrive. However, during a recent walk in a deciduous forest, I encountered several fungal finds.

Right on the trail, I found a red-capped russula. One of our most common summer mushrooms, they grow with a red top over white gills (underside the cap) and a white stem. Nearby was a patch of tiny orange waxy caps. The entire mushroom is orange (or yellow). It receives this name by feeling like wax.

Mushrooms — which exude a white milk-like latex substance — were here, too, as was the first amanita of the season.

Often tall and large with a cap as big as a dinner plate, they usually sport a colorful yellow top with many spots.

Mushrooms appear quickly and often fade just as fast, but their time has started and I’m sure I’ll find more.

Not shaped like a mushroom, but in many ways similar, corals now rise from downed trees. I paused while passing a rotting log on the forest floor for a closer look and saw that about 10 growths of these small brown corals covered the wood. Named after the oceanic corals due to their shape, I find that they look more like branched bare bushes or shrubs.

Spores are produced on the tip of the branches and frequently a minute crown shape can be seen here. Colors are usually brown, tan or yellow — though I have seen purple — and they grow to be about 2 to 4 inches tall. Like their mushroom cousins, coral fungi feed on the decay material so abundant here and help with the needed decomposition of the forest. Thanks to rains of the last few weeks, they appear to be doing well now in mid-summer. I foresee more fungal finds.

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books that are available now. Contact him with questions or comments via budgeteer