Northland Nature: Fungi mimic coral on the forest floor – Duluth News Tribune

The middle of summer is upon us. Besides warm temperatures and the occasional storm, we have new growth every day. Every day, I walk early to avoid the heat of the day, and every day, I am greeted a lot. Dew hangs on the plants on the side of the road and these plants change every day.

Midsummer botany is on and there are new events constantly. Fireweed appears with new blooms in a different bouquet regularly. Milkweed with its ball-like clusters of bright purple continues to attract a lot of attention.

This is Butterfly Month and it is common to see different types of colorful insects on plants covered with morning dew. They may be kings, but there will also be fretyls, admirals, gonds, wood nymphs and skippers. Covered with dew, you need to sit long enough in the sunlight to allow the warmth to dry them.

But I don’t just notice the summer events along the roadsides. The shady forest has a lot to see. Ferns are perhaps the largest and most visible plants in the forest flora of this time. They thrive in such a place. Clipped ostriches and ferns may be shoulder high, while many ostriches reach our knees. But along these forest paths, I also find fungi.

Ferns and trees have green leaves, but most fungi are not green. Don’t act like plants, these weird growths don’t need chlorophyll to survive. Growing on the ground, fallen logs or tree stumps, they obtain their nutritional needs from dead or decaying matter. (And there are many more in the woods.)

We usually think of mushrooms as the most widespread and visible type of fungus. They abound, but mid-summer is a little early for the most part. There’s more later in the season. However, a walk in the woods now can reveal many fungi.

Despite the drought in June, I could see the yellowish-orange color of the sulfur shelf at the base of the trees. Covering several feet, it was hard not to notice. At another site there was a group of white oyster mushrooms. And on the floor, there were screws with their pores under the cover. After some rain, the mushrooms appeared again, and during a recent wander I found a purple russula, which is a gill mushroom. With a cap of purple while the stem and gills were white, it grew on the forest floor.

Other July mushrooms may be Amanita, Hygrocybe, and Lactarius. But what I usually see as a prelude to mushroom season doesn’t look like the expected umbrella shape. Instead, it appears to be a small white bush or shrubs. Because of this shape and partial resemblance to oceanic corals, they are known as coral fungi.

Most of them are branched with spreading tips, looking like small crowns. Many are light in color and about four inches long. And while fallen tree stumps seem to be the preferred substrate, they can also be seen on the ground. Colors can vary and some are yellow, gold or purple and a few are small, branchless corals. With a very different appearance, it is perhaps surprising that they are classified in the same group as mushrooms because their reproduction is similar.

A white plant with short branches growing on the forest floor covered with pine needles

False coral fungi grow on the ground in the forest. Notice how the branches differ from the real corals.

Contributed/Larry Weber

A similar mushroom on land called false coral is also found in the July woods. The pseudobulb is usually white with flat branches and no crown at the tip. False corals reproduce differently and are classified in another group of fungi, similar to jelly fungi.

Right or wrong, they add to the forest ecosystem in the middle of summer and will persist through the warmth.

Larry Weber

Larry Weber

Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum native, is the author of several books.

(tags for translation) LARRY WEBER

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