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Wild observations

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By Nancy Oakes

Mysterious mushrooms...that's what I think whenever I see their strange fruits erupting from the ground.

I find observing mushrooms nearly as dependable as observing birds. No matter the season or location of my walks, I usually find birds and mushrooms to look at. I won't say identify, especially when referring to mushrooms, because I rarely positively name a mushroom.

Moisture seems the main ingredient necessary for cultivating shrooms. Since rains recently fell in our neck of the woods, I've discovered lots of mushrooms popping out of the ground. To help understand these mysterious plants better, I'll do a quick review. The part of mushrooms that we find poking out of the ground is the fruit, which serves as the reproductive role of the plant. The underground part takes up food from organic materials such as decaying wood, fallen leaves, mast, rotting materials, living wood and other plants.

For Christmas I used a gift certificate to buy a mushroom guidebook. I chose this particular book because it has photos of mushrooms rather than drawings. I looked for but couldn't find a guide book specific to Florida, so when using this guide, I have to eliminate mushrooms not found in this area. That still leaves a lot of species to sort through. The book places mushrooms into categories. If I can not put a single name to the shrooms I find, I can place them into types or categories.

One type of mushroom that appears in great numbers under oak trees has a biscuit tan colored top with off white mixed in. Its gills, the ridges under the top, are attached to the stalk which is an off-white. This mushroom does not appear to be savory to animals which is too bad since so many have appeared.

Another mushroom that comes up in the yard grows in groups, the orange caps showing up in the muted colors of my winter lawn. These mushrooms have a veil, a skirt-like piece that encircles the top part of the white stalk. Its attached gills turn a light brown color. Another mushroom I found in the woods has a veil that encloses the bottom part of the thick white stalk. Its gills are attached and off white. The cap looks similar in color to the more numerous biscuit capped ones.

I've also found deep red-brown capped mushrooms and rosy pink capped ones. Both of these have attached gills and no veil. I observed one bolete type mushroom in the woods, several coral type ones, a few polypores and a stinkhorn type.

Boletes have sponge-like tubes under the cap rather than ridged gills. Coral-like mushrooms look like underwater coral, consisting of many thin stems of fruit. The ones I found are a pretty yellow orange. Polypore mushrooms grow on wood, may not have stalks, usually feel dry and tough and, of all the mushrooms, can be found during dry weather as well as wet. Stinkhorns, like their name implies, smell a bit rotten which attracts certain insects. The one I saw came up in a lawn, is orange, and is called Devil's bell. In my guidebook a similar or the same mushroom is identified as "columned stinkhorn." The book's description says this mushroom is a "reddish, stalkless fungus with several columns fused at the top, rising out of thick, whitish cup: odor fedit."

As you can tell, I've had fun with mushrooms during these rainy days. Other nature observations include large flocks of tree swallows and an adult eagle along the Withlacoochee Bay Rail Trail. I watched a lizard shedding its skin while it sat on my utility room window. And small yellow sorrel flowers began to bloom before our next cold spell. Until next time, good observing.